31 December 2014

pregnant thoughts

Ellie is upstairs, playing with her favorite Christmas presents: an IKEA kitchen, plus "the works" to accompany it (food! pots! tea set!), and a huge collection of matchbox vehicles. I bet you didn't know that you can make Sportscar and Watermelon Stew. Well, you can if you're Ellie, especially when you're wearing an enormous purple tutu.

So here I am downstairs, sitting on my giant exercise ball in an attempt to get Jellybean to swivel in the right direction-- no sunny-side-up deliveries, please. She has a new movement pattern these days. Turn a few perfunctory somersaults around lunchtime, and then wiggle gleefully all night long. This does not bode well for my sleep after she's born.

Christmas is always good but I especially enjoy it while I'm pregnant. The physicality of the Incarnation hit me hard the year I was pregnant with Ellie, and once again this year, when I am even further along. I look down at my enormous belly and wonder how Mary ever made it to Bethlehem. I feel Jellybean's tiny body shove against my diaphragm and wonder how Jesus ever fit His divine glory into such a small package.

During our Christmas Eve service, I was overcome with emotion as I thought about what that holy child's arrival means for my own children: that because He became a baby, my babies have an eternal hope.

I have been reading through the book of Joshua in the mornings. I got bored halfway through and slacked off my Scripture reading for a while. I've read all this before, it's pretty much just a list of kings and territories, blah blah blah. Then I got my rear in gear and realized how much I was missing. Joshua seems perfectly tailored for this moment in my life. (Of course, that's what happens when you read God's word with faith. He speaks to you straight from the page! I know that, but putting it into practice is another matter.)
- "Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" . . . as I stare down labor and delivery, knowing I can do this, but not exactly leaping for joy at the thought.
- "I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant" . . . a reminder of how generously God provides for his children, as I feel weak, tired, and fairly useless.
- "And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass" . . . wonderful words of peace, tied to the unfailing character of our God.
Almost done. This baby feels ready to hatch. I'll be 39 weeks on Saturday and I keep hoping that I will go early, as I did with Ellie. But I know that she'll come "in the fullness of time" :)

30 December 2014

no frigate like a book #5

Linked up with Call Her Happy.


A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller

Hard to describe, but I would call this a post-apocalyptic retelling of Western history. After a nuclear holocaust in the 20th century, the survivors include a hardy group of American monks. They preserve the few spared fragments of learning in much the same way that European religious orders protected ancient manuscripts through the medieval era.

Once the nuclear fallout subsides, humanity progresses through recognizable historical stages-- from a rampaging Dark Ages to a politically conniving Enlightenment to a futuristic space age. It's fascinating to see these familiar elements of history recast in new places and with new names, and to wonder if the march of human events really is so inevitable.
They shook hands gingerly, but Dom Paulo knew that it was no token of any truce but only of mutual respect between foes. Perhaps it would never be more.

But why must it all be acted again? The answer was near at hand; there was still the serpent whispering: For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods. The old father of lies was very clever at telling half-truths: How shall you "know" good and evil, until you shall have sampled a little? Taste and be as Gods.
But neither infinite power nor infinite wisdom could bestow godhood upon men. For that there would have to be infinite love as well.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

A brilliant Harvard psychology professor is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. The most unique aspect of this book is the narrative style. While it is told in third-person, we still view things from Alice's perspective, because Genova does not furnish us with any details that Alice herself wouldn't know. For example, as Alice loses her memory, the other characters are referred to with increasingly vague names: we go from reading about "Lydia" to "her youngest daughter" to simply "the actress." If Alice misses something, we do too, and just like her, we have to figure it out later. I thought this was very well done.

At first I did not like Alice. She seemed to personify everything I hate about modern feminism: looking down on young mothers, finding all her worth in her career, believing that she must be self-sufficient at all costs, clinging to a very narrow definition of success. So I thought that I would struggle to sympathize with her as the book went on. However, I got over my initial dislike and enjoyed the story. I was also pleasantly surprised at how her disease shifts her perspective. Alice realizes that in a time of crisis, all she cares about is her family, about their love and loyalty, not accolades from an academic association. (Sadly, her husband-- equally career-driven-- does not seem to share her new perspective and continues to prioritize his work.)

I fear mental disease more than physical, because I worry about losing control and somehow losing my own identity. If my self-awareness and memory melt away, what do I have left? Have I disappeared too? Is my life worth anything anymore? So I liked what Alice had to say:
My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I'll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I'll forget it some tomorrow doesn't mean that I didn't live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn't mean that today didn't matter.

In the Province of Saints by Thomas O'Malley

I am glad I read this one. (I brought it home from the library and said "I picked this off the shelf because it looked good." Jared peered at the cover and said "No, you picked it because it looked Celtic." Fair point, my love.)

It's got some salty language and it is neither uplifting nor inspirational, but then I don't usually go for inspirational. It's real, and its darkness is the kind worth reading about: presented well, even quite beautifully. Sometimes you need to read about the hardness of life. I think it's best to read about it in a way that makes your life better-- because it makes you reflect on sober truths or gives you a better eye for hope-- not in a way that makes you throw the book across the room and say "well fine, why don't we all kill ourselves then." (This novel is an example of the former way. For an example of the latter way, see #5.)

Summary: this story follows a young Irish boy through adolescence as he deals with a severely ill mother, an absent father, and the various political/social pressures of poor village life in 1970s-80s Ireland. It has strong themes of betrayal and loyalty, especially concerning the conflicting loyalties we may find ourselves sorting through: demands from our family, from our beliefs, from from our history. The protagonist must choose at several points to whom (or to what cause) he will be faithful. He also has the opportunity to compare himself to the older men in his life, many of whom fail to fulfill responsibilities to their families or communities. I thought the ending was very strong, not at all happy-go-lucky, but full of gritty resolve. And I like grit.
I stopped at a grotto to the Virgin that lay nestled in the side of a hill, and I said a prayer for my mother and my father although I knew it would do no good. My words frosted the air. The Goddess's weather-beaten face, worn smooth and soft, shone beatific in the moon glow. Hers was an altar of rowan branches, wildflowers and moss heather, lichen, and pools of bog water, the type of old-contry shrine that once dotted the lanes and hillsides.

Wrapped in thorns yet serene and calm, the Goddess assured me that everything would be all right, if only I believed. But the thing was, though I wanted to believe, I didn't.

Ellis Island and Other Stories by Mark Helprin

Clearly I have no problem repeating authors. If I enjoy one of his books, why stop there? This one is different because it's a slim collection of short stories, not an enormous novel. Overall, I prefer the novels, because his characters are so great that I want them to go on almost-forever. (Actually, I like novels more than short stories, period. It's so nice to slip into a story and sustain that narrative for a week, two weeks, rather than be done with it in thirty minutes.) It might be especially good for a car trip, when-- if you are like me-- there are snacks and rest stops and whiny toddlers to interrupt your reading flow.


And now for something completely different, I will mention The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. This one is horrible, so it does not technically belong on a "five favorites" list. Yet here it is! Simply so I can tell you how horrible it is. It is meandering and depressing and full of terrible sex, as one might expect from a novel about Chinese prostitutes. I read half of it and should have stopped much sooner. Please don't bother.

19 December 2014

Weekend linkage

Here's an interesting article on the Christmas tree industry, specifically in the Pacific Northwest.
In Hal Schudel’s 96 years on earth, he served as a B-24 bomber pilot in World War II, earned a doctorate in agricultural philosophy, raised three sons, bred champion quarter horses and Black Angus cattle. He also fundamentally changed our idea of what a Christmas tree should look like. Hal's innovation took us from the hunter-gatherer age of Christmas trees into today's massive Christmas tree agricultural complex.
Well, this is cool: "Spectacular Ice Formations Atop a Windswept Mountain in Slovenia."

LOOK SOME OF MY FAVORITE THINGS RANDOMLY SMASHED INTO ONE VIDEO! (Specifically Oxford architecture, men singing and being really silly, and Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas.")

"Bored Coworkers Recreate Classic Paintings Using Office Supplies." They're good.

18 December 2014

spending the big bucks, or not

Unless it lives in gorgonzola cheese, I am staunchly anti-mold. I loathe it almost as much as the smell of melted butter during my first trimester, which is to say, a lot. The nasty stuff likes to taunt me from the corners of the bathroom. I've tried a number of high-end shower curtains that advertise themselves as "mold repellant." But they always get pink and black streaks along the bottom within a month or two, and sometimes they don't even come clean with bleach.

Finally I gave up and bought a couple of super cheap curtains at Target-- and behold, the cheap curtains stayed mold-free every bit as long as the fancy ones did. When I washed them with hot water and bleach they looked good as new. So you see that spending more money does not always pay off in the long run.

The Moneylender and His Wife by Quentin Metsys

Two things that are worth lots of pennies:

Tea. I am snobby about my tea. (And even expensive tea is cheaper than coffee, so I can still maintain a sense of smug superiority to my coffee-addicted husband.) Lipton tastes like grass cuttings, Bigelow is almost uniformly repulsive, and don't even get me started on Tazo, which I believe is composed of factory floor sweepings. I will drink cheap tea in a pinch-- I'm cold and I need caffeine and this is all I could find in the hotel lobby-- but my own stash consists of the good stuff: Yorkshire Gold, Twining's, Harney and Sons.

Actually, come to think of it, the nationality of the tea company seems to matter more than the price point. Moral: American tea bad. English tea good.

Shoes. Expensive shoes-- so long as the expense means quality and comfort, rather than name recognition-- reward the investment. I've thrown out countless cheap shoes that squeaked, slipped, and fell apart long before I wanted to buy replacements. Meanwhile, a pair of Bass snowboots purchased early on in college are trekking on valiantly. I'm still wearing my wedding shoes five years later and they are in near-perfect condition. I get a new pair of Dansko professional clogs every couple of years for everyday wear, and even after they are scuffed beyond rescue, they stay structurally sound and just turn into my weeding/painting/running-errands-on-a-rainy-day shoes.

The other advantage of only buying pricey shoes is that you end up with fewer pairs and need less storage space. ;-)

Two things that are not:

Pillar candles. Buy them from IKEA! They're pretty and they don't sputter or give off tons of smoke! And because they are so cheap, you can get tons and burn them all the time without feeling like a wastrel.

Wrapping paper. You can find adorable prints for a million dollars at Anthropologie. When the paper costs more than the gift (and gets tossed out anyway), who really wins here? Just go to the dollar store and get simple paper. Add pretty ribbon, maybe a free printable tag or two. Tada!

14 December 2014

family snippets // weekend linkage

At the Seashore by Edward Henry Potthast

It has been a long weekend, in several senses of the word. My grandma passed away recently; her funeral and memorial service were on Friday. Everyone who could (and there were a lot of us) packed up and drove to Fremont, Ohio, where she lived almost her entire life. The services were really lovely. It was sweet to recall all the memories we have of Grandma, and it was good to see so many extended family members, since we are geographically far-flung and don't have the opportunity to get together very often.

Time for parental bragging. Ellie is the best traveler you can imagine. She had to sit in her carseat for about eight hours each way, not to mention all the running around while in Fremont, the new people, the odd schedule, the unfamiliar sleeping environment . . . but she seemed entirely unfazed.

Both she and I did pick up a bad cold, and I ended up with quite a few contractions on the trip back. So today all of us stayed home from church to recuperate, with the help of lots of elderberry, vitamin C, and Vivaldi.

Now links. I have a lot.

Some excellent articles about parenthood: "Mothering in the Internet Age" by Betsy Childs, "A Mother's Repentance" by Rebecca Reynolds, and "The Cult of Kiddie Danger" by Lenore Skenazy.
Today it is a sin — and sometimes a crime — not to imagine your children dead the moment [you] take your eyes off them. The moment they skip to school with a Chapstick, wait in the car a minute, or play at the park. We think we are enlightened in this quest to keep kids completely safe. Actually, we have entered a new Dark Ages, fearing evil all around us.
About food and home: a fascinating interview with Christopher Kimball, founder of Cooks Illustrated, and thoughts on the true nature of "home economics" by Daniel Bearman.

The funnies: Brits try to label a US map, an Aaron Sorkin monologue generator, and 25 kids' jokes "so terrible they're hilarious." They are.

Just plain interesting: 10 ways that companies can trick you into buying more, from Money magazine, and "Why We Don't Need Mrs. Jesus" by Maureen Farrell Garcia at CT.
We don’t need Jesus to be married to know that he was fully human—our orthodox conception of Christ as the God-Man already demonstrates that. We don’t need a female deity to affirm the value of women—the One who created both sexes in the image of God does that already.

05 December 2014

Family snippets

Jellybean is trying to decide if she wants to go head down or not. Mostly she does, but she also likes to switch it up and lie diagonally. I've been doing a lot of yoga poses to encourage her towards the correct position. Ellie gets annoyed by this, because most involve me being head-down, and she wants to see my face at all times. So she runs up to me, grabs my head and pushes, yelling "Off! Off!" (That is her all-purpose preposition and in this case it means get up.) I have to explain to her that no, she may not push Mommy, and Mommy is going to stand like this for as long as I want, whether she approves or not. Sorry.

I had a midwife appointment this morning. I go every two weeks at the end of my pregnancy; I can't believe that we might only have a month left before Jellybean comes, only one or two more appointments before the actual birth. I hope she does come early. It won't be the end of the world if she is late, and I don't put much stock in due dates, but even when I am freaking out about how I'm going to juggle two small children, I do want her to arrive soon. We can't wait to see what she looks like.

This week Ellie proudly formed her first sentence: "This is a toe!" (while pointing at my bare feet, festively adorned with Water Street Blue). Followed by "This is our car!' and "This is a jacket!" She loves to demonstrate her naming knowledge.

I am finding that as Ellie's mobility grows, so does her mischief. It's not necessarily intentional. This week she has fallen into the bathtub, dumped salt and pepper on the floor, upended a candleholder filled with Indian corn kernels, shut herself into the coat closet, and split open her lip, all out of innocent curiosity. Other times it's clearly premeditated: pulling out all the books on the shelf, pushing a dining room chair over to the whiteboard and drawing on it, splashing in the toilet, putting her sippy cup into the trash can, decorating her face with (washable) markers.

I think she goes on troublemaking streaks. She'll be a little angel all morning and then cram her craziness into the half hour before lunch.