Sunday, January 29, 2017

Date night on skis

One of the things that drew me to my husband was his incessant need to be active.  Cold days to me mean warm beverages, cozy couches, books, and occasional seasonal depression.  To my husband they mean skis and wintery hikes.  When I learned to cross-country ski, my winters were transformed.  Suddenly I was outside in the fresh air, with crisp snow and blue skies and more endorphins than normal.  After 20 km on skis, I would go home, take a hot shower and brew up a big pot of tea and sip on it all evening.  The next day I'd feel a delightful ache that meant I'd exerted myself.

Once I got to know my husband more, I was no longer interested in impressing him and was more successful in avoiding the cold and exertion of cross-country skiing.  Last winter I avoided it entirely due to being pregnant.  And though my laziness compels me to want to snuggle up indoors, my memory chides me that time outside is always more soothing to my soul.

My husband is quite persuasive in how he encourages me to get outside: gifts.  Rollerblades, a mountain bike, cross-country ski shoes, and--this year--downhill ski boots.  After I opened the boots at Christmas, we went together to buy me a helmet and then he came home from work one day with the actual skis.  I was cornered.  I couldn't not try downhill skiing after we'd made such a financial investment.

Yet I was nervous.  At the age of 15, I skied like a banshee.  Swallowing my fear, I'd bolted down black diamond slopes, yielding to the inevitable falls, and getting back up to try ski jumps.  That was when I was 15.  Now I've got a baby to take care of.  Yet, she doesn't live at my breast anymore.  She's 9 months old and spends more time awake then asleep.  In addition to breast milk, she steals our food, be it chili, curry, or banana.  She soils fewer nappies and is content to play for long bouts of time with her moose or a container full of plastic clothing pegs.  Perhaps she's even more keen to play with all things not toys: wires, pebbles, mountain bikes, skis.  Still, the only person I'd ever left her with was my husband.


So despite her growing independence, I was nervous for my in-laws to come to our flat to watch her while we skied for an hour.  Baby girl complied by falling asleep an hour-and-a-half before Grandma and Grandpa came, guaranteeing a well-rested and happy baby.  I hand-expressed some milk and left it in a cup in the fridge.  And off we went.

I was nervous--did I mention that yet?  I'd spent the afternoon ironing nappies and watching ski tutorials on my phone.  In the car I panicked about the ski lifts.  Discard any images of ski lifts where you're seated comfortably on a bench.  The ski lifts I most often see here have a dangling pole with a disc to wedge between your legs or a dangling pole with an anchor-shaped bit on the end, each side of the "anchor" curving around a different skier.

Despite my fear, I somehow gripped onto the lift (disc-style) without falling.  My shoulders and upper arms tensed as I gripped the pole the entire journey up the slope.  I didn't feel secure enough to even take a sideways glance at the five-year-olds gently weaving behind a ski instructor like little goslings.  The top of the slope was almost flat, and I looked at my husband, as if waiting for some instruction.  All I got was a look of reassurance before I jerkingly zig-zagged down the hill, breaking up the monotony of my lines with tumbles once my speed had gotten too great or to prevent crashing into a big or little skier.

On the way up the hill again, my brain was crowded with the tips for skiing I'd had pressed into my mind that day due to the wonders of youtube tutorials.  At the top I asked my husband, "how can I turn?  I do it so jerkily."  He responded just as all the tutorials had said: just transfer the weight from one leg to another, keeping the weight on the outside leg.  I banished all other thoughts and began to chant, sometimes aloud, "weight on the left, weight on the right."  And it was better.

Each of my seven runs that night improved.  I fell slightly less often and controlled myself a bit more.  After the 7th run and perhaps the fifth inquiry of whether his parents had texted us, I encouraged my husband that I should quit while I was ahead and we went home with me feeling refreshed by the crisp night air and the feeling that I'd actually improved in something in one short hour.

We've since skied three more times; the second time was with a family from church.  The couple patiently coached me on slowing down and stopping.  After my first run on the intermediate hill (in -12 degree C weather), I'd wanted to quit.  Falling on my already bruised hips was not pleasant.  But their patient smiles urged me on, and I managed to ski for about an hour, after which I was actually able to have the presence of mind on the slope to take in the sight of surrounding hills glazed with snow.

This week, the nervousness was gone.  There was no knot in my stomach as the hour of skiing drew near.  I didn't fear being shamed by the expert five-year-old curving with such grace and control.  I gave more thought to making sure that I could prep Baby Girl to be in as good of a mood as possible for my in-laws.  Out at the slope,  I rode the "anchor"-style lift with my arm around my husband, and my shoulders didn't ache afterwards because I didn't grasp the pole in a death-grip.

I still feel like I'm wearing a space suit while walking in my boots across the gravel in the parking lot, and I get cold (which means I take even greater pleasure in my cup of mulled wine after skiing), but each time I feel the satisfaction of lungs cleansed with cold night air and having made a bit more progress. I don't expect a special Valentine's dinner come February 14th, but I wouldn't mind another date night on skis.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reading 2016

This being the year of birth and breastfeeding, there were some long nursing sessions when I could read away on my kindle.  So I was able to read 45 books this year.  Those that I found especially compelling/worth a read I have put in yellow.  Happy reading in 2017 to you and yours!

1. March 2016 Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman *kindle
I’d heard reference to this book many times, and I enjoyed the read.  The writing style was good, and the content interesting.  The premise is that an American living in Paris examines and contrasts the French and American ways of bringing up children.  There are definitely principles I’d like to apply in my own parenting (cooking with kids, creating clear boundaries but giving freedom within those boundaries, etc.) and there are also principles I don’t agree with (crying it out, scheduled breastfeeding, epidurals, crèche care—though if there were crèches accessible like those described in this book . . . ) I think what I enjoyed most was the peek into another culture.  However, having lived in Europe for 5 years now, many of the ideas in the book didn't seem to shocking or unfamiliar to me.
2. March 2016 Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid *kindle
I’m not sure who recommended this book.  It’s not really the kind of book I’d normally read (fluffy read), but for entertainment it was fine.  The writing style isn’t very special or notable, but there’s an interesting structure in that the book alternates chapters based on whether the protagonist had followed decision A or decision B at the beginning of the book.  It's kind of a choose-your-own-ending book, but for adults.
3. March 2016 The No Brainer Wardrobe: Feel More Like Yourself by Hayley E. Morgan *kindle
I saw this book recommended on a blog.  It was a bit of a disappointment to me.  It was a quick read and most of what I’d read was all familiar knowledge.  It basically explores how to choose clothing items/create a wardrobe that fits to your body shape, lifestyle, etc. As it was a short read, it didn’t go much into depth.
4. March/April 2016 Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott *kindle
A friend recommended this book, which consists of journal entries from Lamott’s pregnancy and then the first year of life with her son.  As always, I appreciate Lamott’s frank nature and wonderful use of metaphor and simile.  She candidly expresses the myriad of joys and aggravations of pregnancy and motherhood. (Commenting now after giving birth: this book is so very true.  It expresses keenly those aspects of becoming a mother that are sometimes forgotten and that aren’t understood by non-moms.)
5. March 2016 St. Brendan edited by Iain McDonald
This book was given to me by my Irish friend Rowan at Christmas.  It recounts the journey of St. Brendan as he sails in search of a holy island. Having not known about this saint before, it was an unusual read, recalling to mind epic tales and adventure stories.
6. April 2016 The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater *kindle
A friend recommended this when I was looking for some engaging fiction to occupy my mind while awaiting baby girl to be born.  The book targets a younger audience (teen fiction), but the mix of folklore with regular life made the book compelling and an enjoyable read.  A key part of the book are the wild horses of the sea, dangerous horses that are caught and trained with to compete in a yearly race. If I had a library handy with English books, I’d probably check out more from this author.
7. 17 April 2016 Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth by Judy Norsigian *kindle
This book had a very nice approach to pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and motherhood.  It nicely explained various aspects in depth with a holistic approach. It also gives a lot of great resources, especially for American moms living in America.  Though helpful for me as an expat, some of the information just didn’t apply to a foreign healthcare system.
8. 21 April 2016 The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business by Gabrielle Palmer (borrowed from Jana H.)
I can’t say I read every page (my pregnancy hormones just couldn’t handle the section about the lack of clean water in many parts of the world and what that means for mothers who are feeding infants formula mixed with impure water), but what I did read was very compelling.  This book explores the origins of infant formulas as well as the social impact that breastfeeding or formula feeding has—economically, medically, psychologically, socially, and so forth.  I think for anyone interested in politics, rights, nutrition, or society in general could find this book quite gripping.
9. April 2016 What to Eat When You’re Pregnant by Dr. Nicole M. Avena*kindle
I’m not sure that I read every page of this either, but I read the majority of it.  I was quite enthusiastic when I heard about the book (before becoming pregnant) and bought it quickly after becoming pregnant. The author first guides the reader through the nutrients and vitamins that are key during pregnancy, with explanation as to why they're important, and also explains the significance of weight gain at proper rates and times in pregnancy.  She does both of these without being judgmental or pushy.  Then she goes week by week through the pregnancy with a “key food of the week” which corresponds to the particular nutritional needs of the baby at that time.  She also includes a recipe and a description of what’s developmentally happening that week.  I wish I had the book as a physical book instead of on Kindle, since I would have been happy to flip back to read about a specific nutrient or through the recipes.  Still, I think the book is well done and is written in a way that can reach a large range of people – both those who know nothing of nutrition and those who know a great deal. One effect it had on my pregnancy was that I took fish oil tablets all the way through.
10. April 2016 Active Birth by Janet Balaskas
This was recommended to me by a friend as the “best book [she] read concerning natural birth.”  It has a lot of great recommendations for poses for preparing the body for birth and also poses to assume during and after birth.  Of course, as any birth book goes, it also discusses how a natural birth proceeds and the effects of interventions.  I would definitely recommend it.
11. Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay *kindle
I’ve read Teaching with Love and Logic multiple times, so it was no surprise that this book resonated with me as well.  The first half includes an explanation of the general Love and Logic approach and the second half of the book applies those ideas to specific situations (like too much computer game time or bullying).  I appreciate the practicality of the book.  It contains lots of scenarios and dialogues that give parents very concrete ideas of how to apply the principles and how to express yourself to your children.
12. April 2016 Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
I pulled out the book in order to lend it to a friend and ended up reading it in its entirety before seeing her.  As usual I appreciate Lamott’s tone – her general honesty, sometimes sweet, sometime snarky – and I appreciate her reflections on her experiences.
13.  22 May 2016 The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (borrowed from Vanessa)
We meet the protagonist of this book as a young boy and continue on with him into adulthood.  A single choice made as a boy grips him and affects all his future choices.  Though the initial choice is innocent, we see the character go down a darker and darker path. I struggled with continuing on with such a flawed character, but the writing was so compelling that I did. This long book flew by and the depth of detail only strengthened the story.  As any good book, we see a transformation happen to the character.  As someone who always likes to see a bit of redemption in a story, I can say that this book fulfilled that criteria as well.
 14. 25 May 2016 The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery  (borrowed from Vanessa)
This book is told from the perspective of two residents of an upscale block of flats in France.  One is the concierge and another a young, intelligent girl from a wealthy family.  The initial commonality that we see (besides the address) is that each one is exceptionally intelligent, and yet each one conceals this fact.  At first I found them to be quite pretentious  in their musings. However, as more and more interactions unfold within the book, you start to see each of them soften a bit and find beauty around them.  Moreover you see them develop in relationships with those around them.  Finally I was quite charmed by the characters and the book.
15. 26 May 2016 Kiss Me! By Carlos Gonzales (borrowed from Jana H.)
This book is about interaction with babies and toddlers especially.  The author (a Spanish pediatrician) champions quick response to babies’ needs, especially responding with love and affection.  The book argues against any belief that children can be spoiled by affection, encourages practices like breastfeeding and babywearing and disagrees with practices like sleep-training  and beliefs that infants are capricious and manipulative.  I found it to be written with a clear logic and the ideas resounded with me.  Moreover, I especially appreciated that the author included specific ideas with which he disagreed and he explained thoroughly why. I would love to have this book in my library.
16. 7 June 2016 The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri  (borrowed from Vanessa)
Reading this again as an expat (and now a mother) who’s lived nearly 5 years as a foreigner, the concepts, conflicts, and characters’ experiences resounded with me powerfully. Many aspects that I didn’t grasp or fully appreciate while reading this in college now resonated more.  Who knows what the next reading may bring.
17. 17 June 2016 The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (borrowed from Vanessa)
I don’t know if I would ever have read this book if Vanessa hadn’t leant it to me after I’d put out a call for book recommendations (I’d put out this call shortly after starting maternity leave).  This book is rich in imagery.  It focuses on 4 characters in a villa in Italy in 1945.  We get to know the characters through short glimpses into their histories, given in snaps and stories interspersed in intervals throughout.  The plot isn’t what drives this book, but rather the imagery and the characters.  I haven’t seen the film, but I can understand why Vanessa told me the book is “way better than the film” when she handed it to me.
18. 22 June 2016 Magyk by Angie Sage *kindle
While listening to the Reading Aloud Revival podcast, this book was mentioned.  During the time (day and night) spent breastfeeding, an easy-to-read and easy-to-hold book is helpful.  So I purchased this one, and it was a delightful read to have at 2 in the morning.    It’s the first book in a 7-book fantasy series.  Its characters are easy to form an affinity for, and there’s a clear good-evil distinction, which I think is great for the Christian reader of fantasy.  I’ve bought the second book already.
19. 24 June 2016 Flyte by Angie Sage * kindle
This is the second book in the Septimus Heap series.  What I enjoyed about the book is that though I was able to predict the initial conflict, I was still regularly surprised by how this conflict and those that followed were finally resolved.  The developments were unexpected, and I continue to enjoy this series.
20. 26 June 2016 Physik by Angie Sage *kindle
I finished this on our train ride to Prague.  Once again I was pleased with how I am not able to completely predict how things will be solved, nor do I anticipate at which point the book will end.  I then bought the 4th book to continue my train reading.
21. 30 June 2016 Queste by Angie Sage *kindle
22. 3 July 2016 Syren by Angie Sage *kindle
23.  6 July 2016 Darke by Angie Sage *kindle
This book was (as implied) dark.  It made me enjoy the book less, though I can see that important plot developments were made.
24.  July Fyre by Angie Sage *kindle
All-in-all I enjoyed the series very much. There are aspects that make me think Sage takes a bit from Rowling (in this day and age you can't ignore Rowling when you read contemporary fantasy that includes magic), but simultaneously it feels as if she is trying intentionally not to follow Rowling.
25. 15 July 2016 My Child Won’t Eat by Carlos Gonzales (lent by Jana H.)
So easy to read.  This book is about transitioning babies to solids and about the complaint “my child won’t eat.”  The main ideas are to not force the child to eat, to realize that children’s bellies are small and can’t receive much food, and to continue to rely on breastfeeding for nutrition as long as possible.   This book was written by the same pediatrician that wrote Kiss Me and I would love to have this book in my library.
26. 16 July 2016 Just David by Eleanor H. Porter *kindle
Written by the same author as wrote Pollyanna, I was happy to hear of this book.  It has a similar storyline to Pollyanna – orphaned child taken in by others influences his hosts and the surrounding community for good.  It’s a delight.
27. July 2016 Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth *kindle
This was a delightful read and I enjoyed it very much.  It is the story of the Gilbreth family, which consists of a couple and their 12 children (written by two of the siblings) growing up in the early 1900s.  This book emphasizes the father’s presence in the family, and it’s worth noting that it was written after his death and after WWII, when people were eager for positive books with strong family values.  Some criticize the book as downplaying the mother, who in addition to managing such a large household also was an innovator in industrial engineering and a psychologist.  She also had close connections to many movers and shakers of her time.  As I read the book, however, it was clear to me that she must have been a remarkable woman, and her career contributions didn't seem to be ignored. In addition to being interested in reading one of her biographies, I’d like to read the sequel to this book (Belles on Their Toes), but I’ve bought quite a lot of books lately so I’ll have to delay that desire.
28. July 2016 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen *kindle
I started reading this when there wasn’t any other reading readily available and I was bored.  I ended up choosing to finish it, and I think I enjoyed it more than the first time I read it since I took more time with it this reading.
29. 1 August 2016 Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling  *kindle
This is a play script and not a novel; of course, as a reader, a novel would have been more thrilling and engaging.  Nonetheless  I enjoyed the read and made quick work of it.  This, of course, does make me very much wish to see the play (which is sold out till mid-next year from what I hear).  I only wish that this book explored more “new” developments in the Harry Potter world.
30. 15 July 2016 Travelling with Pomegranates by  Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor      (Ebook library check out)
This nonfiction book – a joint memoir between mother and daughter - was quite enjoyable.  I’m familiar with Sue Monk Kidd from her books The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair.  This book alternates between her and her daughter as they each face their identities: Sue in entering her 50s and Ann in seeking vocational purpose and direction.  At first I didn’t really enjoy Ann’s writing style, but it matured with the story.  It’s a reflective and contemplative book.
31. 16 July 2016 The Children Act by Ian McEwan (lent by Vanessa)
I didn’t plan to read this book, but one day while breastfeeding I asked the husband to bring me a book, any book, and he brought me this one.  I find the characters compelling and the conflicts interesting.  The emotions are real.  I disagree with some worldviews expressed and disagree with a choice the judge makes early on, but it doesn’t make the book any less compelling.  In fact, as the book develops and concludes, you see the protagonist also questions her decision.
32. 18 July 2016 Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist (Ebook library check out)
I enjoyed these essays on faith, food, and family.  I’ve only tried out one recipe so far.  Generally the recipes look promising, but I don’t like her heavy use of balsamic vinegar and Dijon.  As these flavours are so strong, I feel they can easily overwhelm the taste of other ingredients.
33. 27 August 2016 All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot (Ebook library check out)
I had heard of Herriot at various times and though his titles were familiar, but I hadn’t read them for myself.  Now I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the anecdotes included as well as the writing style.  I also appreciate his pure worldview and optimistic outlook. I’ve got another of his books checked out and another lent from Jana, and I look forward to reading them.
34. 31 August 2016 Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson (Ebook library check out)
This autobiography/memoir is an interesting look into the world of chefs and kitchens.  I always enjoy reading about food and Samuelsson also has an interesting life story including dialogue on racial and cultural identity (he was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden and now lives in the USA).  Sometimes I didn’t quite like his tone (it felt a little arrogant--but he does have something to be proud of), but generally I enjoyed his writing and this exploration into a world which I don’t know (that of chefs and the culinary world).
35. 3 September 2016 Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (E-Book library check-out)
I was told of this series by Jana H. with hopes of it being a gripping fantasy book/series.  I was curious about the story and where it would lead and was happy when not all of my predicted turns were fulfilled.  Yet I found the content too gruesome for me (which makes sense when fantasy meets detective novel).  So though it has its literary merits, I don’t intend to continue with this author.
36. 12 October All things Great and Small by James Herriot (Ebook library check out)
Again, a delightful read from Herriot
37. 18 October 2016 The Signature of All things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Ebook library check-out)
I can’t remember who recommended this, but I did find the story and the characters very interesting.  The heavy place of botany in the book was a point of interest and one of the aspects that kept me engaged.  The historical time period was fascinating and necessary as a theme appeared.  There were some aspects of content I didn’t enjoy (erotic content, evolutionary ideas), but these elements were necessary to the story.  I found the book to be compelling--in a sense that it kept me reading, not in the sense of affecting me as a person.  One moment I appreciated is when the protagonist realizes how she’s been unfair in her thoughts towards another character, not realizing how much the other character has sacrificed for her.  I found this scene moving as it reminds me that we never see the whole story of someone.  There is always missing information, and we ought to be generous with one another. 
38. 21 October 2016 And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Housseini (Ebook library check out)
I enjoyed Housseini’s previous two novels.  Or rather, I should say that I find his books very emotionally striking and his writing style excellent.  He consistently captures core emotions of people and their relationships with one another.  As with his previous two books, the book concerns itself with Afghanistan, but also extends beyond its borders.  In reading this so soon after finishing The Signature of All Things, the latter pales in significance.  I find Housseini’s book much more important because whereas The Signature of All Things seems mostly like a story, And the Mountains Echoed shows me so many aspects of humanity. The opening bedtime story alone, which the father tells his two children, gives the reader plenty to reflect and dwell on.  The theme of people taking care of others (a paralyzed sibling, a stroke sufferer, an incapacitated patient, an aging parent, a victim of violence) also is widely explored as we see the different motivations and feelings of the caretaker come out as well as the wishes of the ones being cared for.  I would highly recommend this book.
39. 24 October 2016 Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers By Anne Lamott (Ebook library check out)
I stumbled across this while browsing Ramsey County’s E-library collection.  As with the other Lamott nonfiction I’ve read, I found this book to be extremely valuable in how directly she talks about real life, real people, real prayers.  She doesn’t talk about prayer like a theologian.  She talks about prayer like someone ho knows Jesus and knows how much she needs him.  A quick read that I should have read more slowly.
40. 1 November 2016 A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy (Ebook library check out)
I enjoyed reading this book and did so within 36 hours of checking it out.  I enjoy that it’s more optimistic than other reading I’ve done of Irish authors.  As an escapist book to fill moments of midnight breastfeeding, it’s perfect.  From a literary perspective, it’s a bit difficult to suspend disbelief as you see each guest in a bed and breakfast have a significant life change/discovery during one week of holiday.
41. 2 November 2016 Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy (Ebook library check out)
So I’m seeing that Binchy likes to develop her characters (breadth, not depth) and her world.  Now that I’ve read a bit more about her, I see that she created her own world of towns and neighbourhoods of characters that reappear in various books.  I read these two books quickly, which helped me to keep characters straight.  Otherwise that could have been a challenge.  I’d say that the books are good light reading.  Binchy’s optimistic in her stories and it’s nice to see the characters have some hope.  (It’s nice to read in the 2016 election year.)  But I would categorize it as light reading good to cheer one up and not as quality literature.  It’s neither deep nor super realistic (Emily is a bit of a perfect Mary Poppins solving problems left and right with little trouble) but interesting.  Maybe a 3.5 out of 5 stars.
41. 13 November 16 Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy (Ebook library check out)
42. 20 November 16 Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy (Ebook library check out)
Binchy’s work is a bit addictive because it contains so many familiar characters that you’re kind of pleased with yourself when you remember who’s who. However, the work is just too idealistic.  The conflicts are solved much too quickly and the characters don’t seem to change much in any of her work, or if they do, they transform so quickly that it’s hard to believe the change could be very permanent or significant.  Kudos to Binchy on her thought-through world and her knowledge of her characters, but the conflict and development aren’t compelling enough for me.  (Some minor conflicts seem to last only a few paragraphs.) Still, I appreciated it when pacing with a crying baby or when feeding in the middle of the night.
43. 7. December 16 My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies by Frederik Backman *book club book
This was the first book of our newly founded book club, and I loved it.  It focuses on a 7-year-old character who is quite precocious and holds her 77-year-old granny as a superhero.  Her granny is wild, chaotic, and in love with her granddaughter.  After her granny’s passing, Elsa must go on an adventurous scavenger hunt set up by her grandmother, causing her to meet the others in her building and learn about their lives as well as make friends.  The dialogue is highly amusing and the characters so endearing.  I just loved this book.
44. 29 December 16 The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas *kindle
This was my brother’s favourite book – or at least among his favourites – and I first tried to read it when I was 10 years old. It was beyond me at that age, but now I found it quite an easy read.  I’d seen the film as a teenager, and I think that deterred me from reading it right away since I knew some big plot points.  However, in the reading of this I realized that the extent of the plans of vengeance by Dantes cannot be shown in film.  So the book contained plenty of developments and plot points that I was unaware of.  I enjoyed that though the reader knew who the targets of vengeance would be, it wasn’t possible to predict all the details of how that would be fulfilled. My enjoyment of the book is demonstrated by the fact that multiple nights I stayed up late reading (that’s high praise when you’re waking multiple times in the night to breastfeed).
45. 30 December 2016 We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (borrowed from Vanessa)
This book centers on family interactions and social norms.  We meet Rosemary “in the middle” of her story.  The book explores parts of her childhood and college years, especially focusing on her absent siblings.  There’s a big twist, which I did not see coming, though a more observant reader might have anticipated it.  It’s definitely a heart-rending story, and at times I needed the emotional relief of picking up a different book.  I’d recommend it.

In progress/partially read:

The Baby Book by Dr. Sears
This book was leant to me, and I find it useful as I have questions about raising Ella—certain health concerns (her first major cold), or developmental steps, etc.  It’s nice having a book of concentrated advice from a pediatrician that I find trustworthy. I’m interested in buying the newest edition for myself.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff
Having given birth this year, it’s not much of a surprise that someone passed on this book to me.  I found it a useful resource, especially for its week-by-week texts about baby development.  In contrast to a book like Active Birth, which clearly advocates natural birth, this book is written more from the approach of laying out all the “options” and not casting judgement.  It goes through some advantages and disadvantages of different birthing choices, but doesn’t lean too heavily on either side (of nursing vs. bottle feeding, epidural vs. none, etc.).


Monday, December 19, 2016

language development and swap/sell sites

I discontinued my Czech lessons shortly after going on maternity leave.  Reduced income plus increased demands on me and my body made the lessons less suitable.  I now spend my days gibbering away in English with my baby girl.  Yet I feel there's still plenty of occasion for Czech use, like today as I chatted in line at the post office with a woman that Baby was grinning at, or on my weekly visits to my in-laws, or on an online swap/sell network.
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In college I joined a Financial Peace University group and went through Dave Ramsey's curriculum about personal finance management.  I started to track my spending and make a budget, and as I transitioned out of college into the "real world," I felt more equipped to manage my money and pay off my school debt. Yet one aspect of the course continued to remain a question to me: selling your stuff.  Quite often the course materials recommended it, but what I wanted to know was "how?"  Fast forward 6 years (and 5 years into my stay in the Czech Republic) and I've finally begun to do it.

Usually when I find my closet getting too full or come across clothing items little in use, I choose one of the following options: donate items to H&M Conscious (especially suitable for spoiled items), donate the items through the local Diakonia, or donate the items to Moment, a secondhand shop that functions like Goodwill and which uses the proceeds to support Kola Pro Afriku (Bikes for Africa). Yet there there were some things that I held onto though I continued not to wear them. Some girlfriends had repeatedly mentioned selling some items online, so finally I asked point-blank what site they used.

I was directed to a social-networking website that specializes in selling clothing and accessories.  While still pregnant, I set up a profile, aware that I wasn't in the ideal condition to wear clothes to photograph and post.  Now the belly is gone and I've got a baby girl who is filling our closets with her own tops, tights, and pajamas.  As our closets aren't getting any bigger, I decided to jump in and try to sell things.

Remember how this post began: Czech language development. Let me I pause and remind you that I live in the Czech Republic,  where people speak Czech.  This means that I needed to advertise the articles I was selling in Czech, let alone learning to navigate the Czech website.  All-in-all, the website is well designed, so though the beginning was slow (as slow as taking photographs of clothing while attending to a mommy-loving infant), I'm now able to more efficiently post items.  And while the vocabulary of posting items is becoming familiar to me, I encounter all sorts of new words as I communicate with buyers and sellers.  For example, I'd posted some various pairs of shoes and suddenly had inquiries about "length of the insole" or "height of the heel" -- phrases I hadn't yet needed to use in daily life.

Furthermore, I have some of the items I'm selling in one flat and some in another, so sometimes, I have to repeatedly respond to inquiries with various versions of "I'll be back at my flat at the weekend, and I'll measure the item for you then.  Thanks for your patience." And as clumsy I was with my responses (and sometimes with the website itself, finally marking my first sold item as sold to the wrong user), I was able to make my first sale, navigate a not-so-beloved post office and send off the item.  Currently, I've sold another three items and one more is reserved and awaiting payment.

Just today I received a package of my first (and only) purchase from the website: some merino wool growing onesies for Baby Girl.  I was pleased to buy them about 30% less than usual cost (one of them being completely new).  I also recently navigated my first exchange of items.  My package should be approaching the other user's doorstep, and sometime this week I'll get my own package.

While using this website had started as a practical effort to sell quality items that were being neglected in the back of our wardrobe, I've been pleasantly surprised with how entertaining I've found the endeavor.  As I communicate (in Czech), I see the personalities of other users come out: the slightly pushy girl eager for a good deal, the bartering man, the woman eager to make sure that our exchange is equal, the closet cross-dresser, the disappointed woman with big feet disappointed to have shown interest too late.  (I'm also quite suspicious that my latest sale may be part of a prank, but I think that I'm okay with that.)   Even visits to the post office* are more pleasant as I know what to expect and come prepared with a book or a podcast to keep me occupied while I wait in line.  Finally, I find it immensely satisfying to creatively package up items and send them off to someone who I know will enjoy them.

So though I haven't decided when I'd resume regular Czech lessons or with whom, I can count on this sell/swap website to keep my Czech in active use.

*On my way to the post office, I met one of my neighbours from our building.  She informed me that there's a postal strike scheduled for today, but it is planned for 17:00-19:00 today.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Diapers and Packages

I lifted Baby from my lap to change her diaper and saw a puddle of what was definitely not pumpkin soup where she'd been sitting.  What had started as a single overnight to manage some packages had turned into perfect fodder for a comedic screenplay.

* * *

As a mom, going to a store requires packing a bag and a baby, which requires warm clothes, emergency diapers, and leaving the house looking like a pack mule.  So for holiday shopping, perusing Czech eshops seemed much simpler, with the exception of the local post office.  I just don't like this post office.  No matter what hour I try, the lines are long, the organization is confusing, and the atmosphere is stifling with the clutter of papers and taupe.

So as I ordered Christmas gifts I happily thought, "I can avoid that post office altogether and order them to our other flat," a flat in a city with a post office with clean design, an understandable number system and normally short lines.  So I cheerfully click-clacked the address into my orders.  Yet I neglected two important details: 1) I'm a stay-at-home mom, which means I could be home when the packages come and not even have to go to any post office to pick them up and 2) we're only in the other town on weekends . . . except for that Thanksgiving weekend when we'd be celebrating in Ostrava and the Christmas party the weekend after that.

Which week do you think the packages decided to come?

Moreover, the amount of time that the post office holds packages has shortened to 7 days, plus an upcoming Christmas party required immediate collection of one of these packages.  So after Thanksgiving I wedged myself between two carseats as I caught a lift from friends to our other flat.

There were some complications managing packages--a missing slip of paper, another package not yet arrived--but more complications arose from one very simple thing: Diapers.

Since the most time-sensitive package had not yet arrived, I decided to stay an extra night to (hopefully) receive the last package. That led to a diaper crisis.  I'd packed enough cloth diapers for a single overnight.  So after a 3 AM feeding and soothing session, I loaded the washer, hoping to wake up to a finished cycle, not the E10 error message on the machine.  This machine is past its prime and is understandably tired after years of washing sports gear, clothes soiled from gardening, and, of late, lots and lots of soiled diapers.  I thought she'd just sighed into retirement.  Not wanting to disturb my husband with the unfortunate news, I decided to play it retro and wash the diapers by hand.  A bit more laborious, but doable--so long as I maintained eye contact with my baby playing on the floor because she wanted her mama's undivided attention.

By this point in the day she'd already soiled quite a few diapers and the clothes on top of the diapers.  Not only was her outfit now makeshift (a tshirt and legs warmers), but her diaper was one of our reserves plus a cotton washcloth added for good measure. To make the outfit complete, I used a floral fleece diaper.  As I kneaded the diapers in the warm water, Baby continued to complain.  I gave as many smiles and songs as I could manage while rinsing and hanging the diapers, knowing that we'd be trying the diaper-free method pretty soon if these diapers didn't air dry fast.

 Once they were hung, I sat on the floor "pretzel-style" and took her into a sitting position in my lap.  She instantly settled down to playing contentedly with her toys.  Then the noises started.  You know what I'm talking about, the concerted grunts as Baby Girl unburdened herself.  So that was the real reason behind her complaining.  Our diaper supply dwindling, I first wanted to move her onto a surface suitable for changing her, feeling that some of her, erm, waste matter had leaked out.  And as I held her in the air, I saw the puddle (read: lake) she'd left on the flare of my stretchy pants.  The carrot from yesterday was also visible.

Did I mention she's in the diaper-changing phase where she tries to roll over as many times as possible within the 1-minute change?  I half expected a laugh track to sound as I struggled to position her, give her a washable toy to distract her, strip my own clothes without dripping, clean my hands, change her diaper, and find something to dress he rin.

And that was when I reflected on the absurdity of the morning: early wakings, 3 outfit changes, improvised diapers, kneading out her soiled diapers by hand, and now a whole lot of organic matter on my own clothes.   I felt like I was in a sitcom or a stereotypical movie about moms.  But aside from the acrobatics around the diaper change, the dramatic music and annoyed frenzy was missing.  The amusement of the grossness of her ambitious diaper soiling was not lost on me and I found myself quite content to be her mom in that moment.  A bit grossed out, yes, but also calm and thankful for my babe. (And if that weren't enough, the package that I'd been so eager to receive came that morning to my door: no post office visit necessary.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Flying with a Baby

Nearly everyone had an opinion.  "Oh, she's much too young!"  "Do you think it's healthy for her?" "How will you cope alone on the flight back?"  “Is it safe for her to travel in a plane?”  “Won’t she cry terribly?”  “Maybe 4 months old is too young, wouldn’t it be easier to wait until she’s older?”  Yet since I'd gotten married I'd experienced bouts of homesickness, and since Baby was born, her only experience with my side of the family was the summer visit of my Dad and oldest niece.  To America we must go, the only question was when.

I wanted to travel when she was still young enough to be frequently sleeping and not yet crawling.  Secondly, I wanted my husband to see the Midwest in the summer.  So September was chosen.  Baby girl would be four months old when we left and five months old when we returned.  The three of us would take the same flights to the USA, but Baby and I would remain two weeks longer than my husband.

This age was perfect for packing.  Baby had just started to be interested in toys so I took a couple.  Summer meant light clothing for all.  Her young age meant I packed my supermama uniform of breastfeeding shirts and some skirts/bottoms. My only mistake was packing some items I wear rarely and others that I rarely dress Baby in.  Travelling didn't change our basic dressing habits. No carseat, no stroller, just enough disposable nappies to get us to America and we were good.  I went to the airport with her in the wrap, a diaper bag, a backpack and a wheeled suitcase in which to bring English children's books and any gifts back in.




The wrap was ideal for all aspects of travel.  She's used to it and could feel secure and fall asleep in nearly any environment.  In taxis, there are car seat exceptions so I wore her securely tied to me.  In security, I went through just with an extra pat down and swab test.  Only once did I have to remove her for security screening.  In the plane it varied as to whether I had to remove her from the wrap during take-off and landing.  I found the seatbelt extension they gave me for her to be a bit of a joke--as she's much more secure in the wrap--but a flight attendant friend of mine informed me that they do this so that in case something happened, they could easily remove a baby without the mother's necessary assistance.  It may be morose, but I'd say that if something happened, the seatbelt extension would probably cause a higher chance that the baby would be flung away from the mother or whiplashed.

En route to America we had normal seats in economy with the normal lack of leg room.  From Baby's back (while worn in the wrap) to the seat in front of us was only a couple of inches.  Still, she was able to fall asleep and stay asleep while I was seated.  On the long flight, I even managed to put her in the wrap while I was buckled in (there was turbulence happening at the time) and was then able to rock her to sleep, while seated. This gave me freedom to finish reading Midnight Riot on my phone and to noncommittally watch bits and pieces of films.

On all our flights she was complimented for her behaviour (keep in mind that she was heavily teething as well!).  On our way to the USA, our last leg had us travelling from Chicago to Iowa.  She fell asleep in the Chicago airport and woke up only after we'd claimed our bags. 

Naturally, having my husband present was a big help.  I could hand off the baby and go to the toilet or adjust my wrap.  Yet we still managed the return flights without him.  I'd planned carry-on items that could be navigated while babywearing, and there was a bassinet for her long flight.  That meant I could leave her sleeping there and actually go to the bathroom by myself on the plane.  I couldn't sleep, however, because another infant was crying.  With the comfort of dimmed lights and an evening flight, Baby girl slept on through it.  There was a single moment when I needed some extra arms as I travelled back to the CZ: Frankfurt airport security.  On the way home, they wanted me to go through the scanner without her.  So I handed her over to a security guard and put my wrap through the x-ray.  Once through, a kind German man offered help and I handed him my baby while I prepared the wrap.

Seriously, travellers, buy a wrap.  It was a life-saver.  Baby girl is so used to being in the wrap that it gave some normalcy and security to unfamiliar environments.   Though she was mostly worn, we were able to find times during longer layovers to lay her down so she could kick around a bit before the last flight.  For all of the warnings and worries of our well-meaning friends and acquaintances, and though travelling was tiring for me, I think Baby girl barely felt any different than a normal day.