April 29, 2011

Three Books

Someone recommended this book to me and, as I often do, I put it on the library request list without even investigating.

When We Were Strangers, by Pamela Schoenewaldt
(photo from Amazon.com)

I read the first couple of pages and I was like, "Oh. Tiny village, young girl, late 1800s, poverty and misery. Not my style." I kept reading only because it was my last library book.

It totally won me over. By the time she sets out for America, I was all, "Whoaaaaaaaaaa." I could just PICTURE it. I really really really did not think I was much interested in immigration stories aside from a moderate interest in the most dramatic story from my own family (boat sank, almost everyone was killed except a few people including my male ancestor and female ancestor, who then perhaps bonded over their survival guilt and got married), but it turned out I WAS interested. Bewitched, almost. And yet, when I think back over it, I'm STILL not interested in a summary of the plot, and I don't have much interest in reading MORE immigration stories.

Will YOU like it? Dunno! I mean, I could say, "If YOU don't like immigration stories EITHER, you might!" or "If you DO like immigration stories, you might!"---so I suspect it's actually, "If you like this style of writing, you will!" since I felt like it was more the storyteller than the story for this one.

Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
(photo from Amazon.com)

Paul heard about this book and thought I'd like it so he requested it from the library. I read it in an evening, and handed it to him saying "More." It's an apocalyptic graphic novel series, and the gist is that every person and animal with a Y chromosome dies all at once---except for one man and one male monkey. The first book has to Do The Apocalypse Part, so there are a few upsetting pages where the women are watching all the men die. And then, of course, there is a new world order, and you know what new world orders are founded on? PEACE AND LOVE. Ha ha! No. New world orders are founded on people grabbing for power with both fists, using violence and cultish control practices when necessary.

So...it's not like I can tell you this is not an upsetting book---but if you LIKE apocalypse stuff, as I do, I think you'll like it. I was worried the visual element would be too much (I like apocalyptic BOOKS but not apocalyptic MOVIES), but I was able to handle it with only a few winces or upset feelings---and those are sort of guaranteed with, like, a mass death situation.

Picture This by Lynda Barry
(photo from Amazon.com)

I buy every new book by Lynda Barry without even looking to see what it's about. It doesn't MATTER what it's about; I know I will like it. The back of this one says something about Lynda Barry having created a new genre, the graphic-novel how-to, and that's what this is. It's part demonstration, part instruction, part freestyle thoughts on art and the experience of making art and the experiences that go into art. Every page is crammed to the edges with pictures and words and watercolor. I don't even DO art and I was interested. But of course, part of this is that I am very keen on Lynda Barry's whole THING, her whole drawing/writing STYLE. So if you AREN'T...well, then, I think you won't like this book! But if you DO, well then you WILL.


Well! Aren't those good reviews? "If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you would like! Contrariwise, if you DON'T like this sort of thing, then this is NOT the sort of thing you'd like!"

April 28, 2011

Spring Mix Salad with Kielbasa and Pepper-ring Brine Dressing

This is one of my favorite meals right now. One day I had it for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner.

Start with kielbasa. It's often sold near hot dogs. I like turkey kielbasa, and there's also a spicy one that's really good.

I cut a kielbasa into three roughly equal servings. Two of them I put in baggies in the fridge/freezer for another meal.

The third I use. This is an excellent meal to make ostentatiously if you are angry at a male in your household. Even just the sight of the 1/3 kielbasa on the cutting board will cause him to pale.

I first cut it in half down the long way, then put the two halves flat-side down and slice them, so I get little half-circles. I put the half circles into a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring periodically.

Meanwhile I get the lettuce ready. I use an 8-cup bowl. I like the bagged Spring Mix that looks like someone snipped it directly out of a meadow. I fill the bowl about halfway and pack it down a bit. Then I add two spoonfuls of the liquid from a jar of those yellow pepper rings. It would have been nice if I'd had a better jar for this picture, instead of one that was empty of all but a couple of tablespoons of juice, but there it is. Then I fill the bowl the rest of the way, again packing it down a bit, and add two or three more spoonfuls of pepper liquid. It's good with a few of the actual pepper rings, too, but as you can see I was all out this time.

By now the sausage is getting nice and browned. I like it even a little more cooked than this, but I was hungry and didn't want to wait. If I use the spicy sausage, it needs to be blotted with paper towels after cooking; but the turkey kind cooks dry.

Put the sausage on top of the lettuce, and it's ready to eat. Each bite should contain one half-circle of sausage plus a big unwieldy floof of lettuce that will have to be crammed inelegantly into the mouth.

For me, this serves one, but I can imagine it serving two instead, or more if you use it as a side salad.

April 27, 2011

What It's Like to Donate Blood

I will start by saying that I intend to tell this as if I were telling it to my 10-year-old who FAINTED when he saw a child at school get a nosebleed. I will be careful and gentle.

I have mentioned before that I like to donate blood regularly as one of my own Nice Things We Do For Other People things. For me it's relatively easy, and while I guess I wouldn't go so far as to call it "enjoyable," I'm glad to do it and I get a pleasant feeling of doing-nice-things satisfaction from it.

But will you catch me nagging YOU to do it, or whining that you don't? No. Well, I mean, you might catch me ENCOURAGING you to do it if you're scared, and wishing that more people would donate---but if you DON'T donate, it's not just that I won't SAY anything negative, I won't THINK anything negative. Many, many people CAN'T donate blood. There are tons of reasons: underweight, low blood pressure, low iron, various medications or heath states, vein problems, fainting, etc.

And many, many people CAN donate blood but DON'T WANT TO for a large number of assorted reasons, and those people are doing DIFFERENT things that help other people. We should each choose our OWN things; we can't ALL do ALL the things, so if we each do our own selection, we will cover the most ground. Some of us donate money/clothes/food to charity; some of us volunteer at animal shelters or nursing homes or food pantries or crisis lines; some of us peer out our windows to make sure Those Kids aren't getting Up To No Good out there; some of us cook for families that are sick or have a new baby; some of us tutor or mentor; some of us serve on committees or boards; some of us promote causes or work to raise awareness/action; some of us pick up litter while we walk the dog; some of us put a penny in the "Take a Penny, Leave a Penny" dish---there are all KINDS of unpaid, for-the-good-of-humanity things that need to be done, and it makes the most sense for each of us to do the things that we are most drawn to and the things that work best with our own skill sets. I don't WANT to do a charity walk, and I'm not skilled at tutoring---but I DO want to give blood, and I have GORGEOUS veins.

If you think you might want to make blood-donating one of YOUR things, but you are nervous about it, or you feel nervous (as I do) about New Things when you don't know how things will go or what they will be like, I will tell you about it. There will be slight variations from donation center to donation center, but I've given in six different states/centers now, and it's been roughly the same at each one.

The first step is find a place to donate. (No, wait: probably the first step is finding out if you're eligible.) Some areas have a donation center that's open all the time; in other areas, the Red Cross sets up blood drives at churches or town halls or schools or other buildings that have enough room and can donate the space, and they'll be there once every two weeks or once a month or something like that. You can search by zip code to find a place near you. I thought at first that there was nothing near me that had hours I was available to donate, but then it turned out there's an every-4-weeks evening thing less than two miles from my house.

Some drives allow you to make an appointment, and others don't. I haven't found it makes much difference in waiting time: at my most recent drive, I overheard two other donors talking, and one said he's found he waits 15 minutes if he has an appointment, or half an hour if he doesn't. That sounds about right for that location. So if you do better if you can drop by on the spur of the moment, it's not a huge deal not to have an appointment. I like to have an appointment, though, because otherwise I have trouble remembering when it's been 8 weeks (you can donate every 8 weeks). I bring a book, and the waiting is time when no one is BOTHERING me. Also, bring ID.

When you first arrive, you check in. A volunteer gives you a sticker with your name on it and asks you to read a packet of information. If it's your first time, read it; after the first time, skim it for a couple of minutes and turn all the pages so it looks like you're a responsible donor. It tells you things like, "Please don't donate blood if you are HIV-positive" and "You can't donate if you've donated less than 8 weeks ago" and "Here are the tests we perform on your blood and the information of yours we'll share" and "If you're in high school, here are your specific rules." This is also when you get any goodies the particular drive might be giving out: a certificate for a free pint of ice cream at a local place, or a certificate for a free Subway sub, or a free bag of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, or a Red Cross t-shirt---that sort of thing.

From check-in, you go to the waiting area. In most of the places where I've donated, I've been given a number, but in one place they called by first name. When it's your turn, an employee in a white coat will take you into a cubical. If it's your first time donating, you'll need to give your name, social security number, date of birth, address, phone number, etc.; after the first time, you'll have an ID card they can scan to call up your profile. If you've ever donated under another name, you'll have to give that information every single time, which seems silly to me, and it's such a hassle, and then you have to re-state your birthdate each time they enter another name, so now I have those two previous names and my birthdate written on a card I keep with my blood donor ID card so I can just hand it to them and they can copy it.

They'll take your pulse and your blood pressure and your temperature, and they'll glance at the veins that run along the insides of your elbows, and they'll ask if you're allergic to latex, and then comes my least favorite part of the whole thing: they'll set up a little plastic shield between them and your hand, and they'll prick your finger to get a drop or two of blood to test your iron. It doesn't even hurt all that much, but it's sudden (the little needle goes kerchunk) and then they SQUEEZE your finger hard, especially if your hands are cold. Anyway, the anticipation is worse than anything else. And incidentally, I take iron tablets in the days before a donation so I won't be turned down for low iron; it's one of the most common things women are turned down for, and it's a shame to get all the way to that point and then go home.

If you've passed everything so far, it's time for Many Questions. When I first started donating, the employee had to ask all the questions verbally; now at the place I donate, they leave you with a computer and you can do it that way, which is WAY BETTER, especially since some of the questions are Quite Embarrassing: "Have you ever had sex for money?" "Have you ever had sex with a man who has had sex with another man?" Other questions are less blushy: "Have you ever visited any of these countries?" "Have you ever taken any of these medications?" "Have you had a tattoo in the last year?" Some questions, even if you answer the way you think is "wrong" (yes, I've had a vaccination; yes, I've had contact with someone else's blood), it's still okay: they just have to ask a follow-up question (oh, it was just a flu shot; oh, it was just your son's blood when he skinned his knee).

If everything is fine with the questions, you'll be given a paper to read and sign: you check to make sure your name and social security number and birthdate are correct, and you read a paragraph about how you're releasing this donation for their use. It probably says some other things about not suing them if you pass out on the donation chair and fall off and break your arm.

This is when they take you over to the donation area. Most places ask which arm you'd prefer to use; I usually choose left because I'm right-handed, but a couple of times they haven't asked and they've used my right arm and I haven't noticed any real problem using that arm afterward. I'm just slightly squicked, that's all. And when I have a babe-in-arms, I use my right arm on purpose for the donation, because I carry a child with my left arm.

The donation chairs are like lawn lounge chairs, so your legs stick out straight in front of you. If it's your first donation, some places encourage you to let them adjust the chair so that you're lying down and your legs are elevated; other places just ask you every five seconds how you're feeling. During one of my donations I felt sick all of a sudden, and they immediately adjusted the chair so I was lying down with my feet elevated, which helped tremendously though I felt silly (this was in college, with cute boys all around SEEING ME HORIZONTAL OMG).

The employee at the chairs might be the same one who did the temperature and pulse and questions, or it might be someone new. They'll put your arm on a little armrest tray, and ask you to confirm your name. They'll put one million little ID stickers on one million bags and vials and papers; one of those stickers/papers will be for you to take home in case you suddenly think of a reason they shouldn't use your blood.

They'll put a blood pressure cuff on your arm and give you a little foam thingie or stress ball to hold, then mark your vein with a permanent marker and ask you to hold still. If you're twitchy and you move a little anyway, it's not a huge deal---it's just that they are about to wash your elbow pit very thoroughly with dark-staining iodine, and the mark helps them to see the vein afterward. But they can still see it even if you move and the mark isn't in the right place anymore. Just TRY not to.

They'll use a big q-tip thing to wash your arm with iodine (they'll ask first if you're allergic to it) for what seems like a very long time (I think it's 30 seconds). Then they use a second substance, I don't know what it is, and they just do one swirl with that. Then they'll ask you to give a few squeezes on the stress ball and then keep squeezing, and this is where you should avert your eyes and take a breath if you're squeamish: they'll say "Little pinch now" and use the needle. It will STING for a few seconds, and they've told me why but I forget. The iodine? An anti-coagulant on the needle? I forget. Anyway, just for a few seconds.

Then you're supposed to squeeze the stress ball every few seconds. They'll keep checking the bag and at some point they'll fill a few vials (for testing, I think), but none of that feels like anything. When there's a pint in the bag (it takes five or ten minutes, typically), you're done: they'll press some gauze over the needle and then the needle will be gone quick like a bunny, and they'll have you press the gauze now and hold your arm straight up in the air for a minute. Then they give you a bandaid, check your name one more time, and send you to canteen.

THE BEST PART: you have to sit quietly for a little while and have a snack. It's typical for local restaurants to donate snacks, so sometimes there are doughnuts or pastries or pizzas---but if there's not, there's usually cookies/brownies, or packets of snack crackers, or boxes of raisins, or...well, you'll have to find out. If you have dietary restrictions, you can bring your own snack. Some places have you sit for a certain number of minutes and even have a sort of matron in place to make sure you don't leave before you've said you feel okay; other places, like mine, you just sit for ten-ish minutes and then go. And if back at your house it's time for the bedtime routine, maybe you sit for more like twenty minutes and have a second slice of pizza.

The whole thing all together, from arrival to done-with-snack, takes 1 to 1.5 hours, mostly depending on the time spent in the waiting area.

April 24, 2011

It Doesn't Put Me in the Mood to Go Swimming

GEEZ, this freaks me out:

It's Amazon.com's ad for their swim section, and they show it to me each time I place an order, on the "Thanks, your order has been placed" page. To me it looks like she's DROWNED---well, or drownING, since there are still bubbles. But in any case, she does not look like she is heading for the surface any time soon, and her facial expression is not right, and what is with her FULL MAKE-UP, and her neck tendons look like comic book drawings, and she sure doesn't exude WILL TO LIVE, and also her swimsuit straps don't match, and the upshot is that I'm startled every time I see the ad. She doesn't look like she's SWIMMING, she looks like she's SINKING. And the water doesn't look like a nice place to swim, either.

April 23, 2011

Follow-up on the Cat

I was out this morning running errands and having lunch with my mom. When I got home, I read all the comments on the post about the cat, and I had renewed hope. Paul was out on errands too, so I waited impatiently for him to come home so I could go get the cat without having to bring Henry with me. I imagined how I'd come home afterward and do a post that was just a picture of the cat. AND THE CROWD GOES WILD.

We drove to the shelter---and there was a "HOLD" sign on the cat's cage. I found a worker and asked if holds ever fall through, and she said, "Oh, sure, yes! We can take your name and call you if they don't come back. Which cat?" When I said the cat's name, she said, "Oh. Actually, they're filling out the paperwork right now." The kids wanted to look at the other cats, so I saw My Cat being taken out in a cat carrier.

So. If I'd gotten back from errands a little earlier, if I hadn't waited for Paul but had instead just taken Henry with me, if I'd posted my post last night instead of this morning---that cat would be home with me now, and this post would be a picture of him. I am thinking of it this way: that maybe the people who took him (it was a woman in her 40s and a woman in her 60s) NEEDED a cat without claws, but didn't want to declaw a cat so had been waiting for an already-declawed rescue cat to become available. And now they will take him home and he will be very happy, and we will find another cat later and be GLAD this one fell through, because we will like the other one so much. In any case, it's happy that cat gets to go home now.


I went to the animal shelter yesterday to drop off some more donation clothes (they have one of those fundraising dumpsters), and while I was there I went in "just to look" at the cats, "just for fun." My household is a three-cat household with two cats, and so the cat vacuum needs to be filled---but we thought it would be nice to have some two-cat time first, so I haven't been actively looking. On the other hand, it's so tempting---like browsing baby name books when you're not actively trying but you've entered the "it would be fine if it happened" time.

So I went in to look, and I found a great cat. Exactly the cat I was looking for. We'd like to STAGGER our cats a bit more this time, so that we don't have three elderly cats at the same time with all their expenses and problems and stresses and sad dyings, and we have a 2-year-old cat and a 1-year-old cat so we'd like the new cat to be at least 5 years old, and this cat was 7 years old. Which is also pleasing since older cats can be harder to find homes for.

Also, this isn't at all necessary, but I do ENJOY getting different fur colors each time, so it's not crucial but a BONUS would be a new kind of fur, and this cat was patches of orange fur and white fur, which we've never had.

A lot of times, when I look at the cat and then the little descriptions on the cages, the cat sounds perfect until I get to the part where it says the cat doesn't get along with other cats, or doesn't do well with small children---and there are a lot of cats like that at a shelter, because that's one of the big reasons WHY a cat gets brought to a shelter. But THIS cat's description said he's easy-going and gets along great with young children, other cats, and even dogs.

AND, a clincher: it said "He'll want to sleep on your bed, so be prepared!" I LOVE a cat on the bed at night. And this cat is a nice big solid cat.

Furthermore, the cat was working the pity vote: lots of cats seem like they don't mind being at the shelter, but this cat looked, as I described him to my mother, "like he just wants to GO HOME," and my mother agreed completely. (Did I mention she was with me? She was with me, and so was Henry.) He didn't come to the cage door to pick at it or bonk his head against it like some of the other cats do; he had his head toward the far corner and he looked like he'd lost hope. And yet when I put my hand at the cage bars, he came right over and rubbed his jaw/cheek on my fingers.

I think that cat would be here at our house right now, except for one thing: the description said his front paws were declawed and so he should be an indoors-only cat. And we have two indoor/outdoor cats, and they have a cat door so they can come and go freely, and we have children going in and out all the time so we wouldn't be able to reasonably expect to be able to contain a cat that WANTED to go out.

So. I went home, without the cat. But I'm feeling sad about the cat. I KNOW I will like other cats just as well, and that if we don't get THIS cat there will be ANOTHER cat later. And in fact when we get that hypothetical future cat, Hypothetical Future Me will be saying, "Boy, I'm glad we didn't get that OTHER cat, because then imagine: we wouldn't have THIS cat!" But right now I still find my mind turning the problem over and over, trying to find a way we could take the cat. Could we TRY to keep him indoors while letting the other two out? No. Could we keep the other two cats exclusively indoors as well? No. CLAW REATTACHMENT SURGERY? No.

IS there any way this could work? I was thinking I might go to the shelter on Sunday (I take Henry and one of the big kids on an outing on Sunday, and the animal shelter is a popular destination), and if the cat is still there I could talk to one of the people who works there about it. I also thought about calling the vet to ask HER. Because the shelter leans very hard toward keeping cats indoors, and what I thought I remembered was that a front-declawed cat COULD go outside, especially if they have a cat door they can run to, because in a pinch they can climb trees with their back claws and just use their front paws for balance? Like, that you wouldn't declaw an indoor/outdoor cat---but that if the cat were ALREADY declawed, as in this situation, all was not lost on the outdoors thing as long as the back paws still had claws.

April 22, 2011

Clutter Tolerance

It astonishes me again and again the way I can get totally caught up on something, feel all amazed that it is not so hard if I just work on it consistently, feel so good about being caught up, feel so happy viewing daily the results of my labor---and then let it fall right back again because I don't really want to work on it consistently and/or there are only so many things there's time in a day to work on consistently and that bag of library books is not going to read itself.

Most recently I've done this with the laundry and with the decluttering. I don't know why I ran out of steam on the decluttering: it felt so good to get the dining room done, and some of the basement done, and then I worked for awhile on Elizabeth's room---and as soon as Elizabeth's room was no longer a fire hazard, I lost my oomph. I think I just have a fairly high clutter tolerance, and it takes significant effort to force my tolerance lower. This is probably a trait I should be grateful for rather than trying to fight and change, since I think otherwise I might go mad in this house of cluttermakers.

And the laundry, I find I enjoy it more if there is a feeling of urgency: Rob is wearing HIS LAST PAIR of pants! or whatever. It makes me feel like I'm doing Important Work rather than keeping up with household drudgery no one notices: "Here are two more pairs of clean pants to add to your five pairs of clean pants." Plus, it goes faster if I can do a whole load of one thing: it's much faster/easier to fold a whole load of shirts for the two boys who share a room, than it is to fold a load of several shirts, several pairs of pants, several sets of pajamas, a stack of underwear, and a pile of socks, all distributed among four different bureaus.

April 21, 2011

Royal Successions

Last night my mom and dad and my mom's friend Donna and I tried to figure out who would be next in line for the British throne if Charles died before he was king. You would think there would be a simple and quick "just look it up" kind of answer to this question, but YOU WOULD BE MISTAKEN. We even had Donna call in a lifeline, phoning her trivia-knowledgeable husband to ask him. (To his credit and our amusement, he didn't act at all surprised about being called at 9:00 at night with a question about British rules of succession. Donna says this kind of thing happens to him all the time.)

To ME, it makes sense that if one of Queen Elizabeth's children dies before she hands over the crown, she would instead hand it to another of her children. Instead, after about an hour of poring over various sites (none of which agreed with each other), it appears that even though Charles hasn't yet been crowned, his descendants (I will never spell that word right the first time) are already lined up JUST AS IF HE WERE crowned---so if Charles died, Queen Elizabeth would give the crown to William. (This assumes the verb "give" will ever apply to her relationship to the crown, which I doubt.)

But...why skip the generation? Why not have someone of the exact same "rank" (child of the queen) fill that slot of queen's heir, instead of skipping over those same-rank people and going a rank lower? It seems like the rule is something like "preference is given to the firstborn AND to the firstborn's line, over any otherborn or otherborn's line"---but that doesn't explain the WHY to me, and also there were spots in the lines of succession we were looking at that didn't seem to follow this rule. Finally we had to agree that we would just have to wait and see what happened: if Charles DOES die before his mother, THEN we will find out for sure. Until then, it doesn't matter anyway.


Are you going to watch the royal wedding a week from tomorrow? I'm already aware that huge swaths of the population couldn't care less about it, and a list of who's NOT watching would be hard to file, so it's more that I'm wondering who among us has a "yes" reply to this question, and I will assume the rest are "no, this is not among my personal set of interests, just as some of my personal interests are not among yours---and that doesn't mean that either set of interests is superior to the other."

I'm hoping to figure out a way to watch it on television AND be on Twitter, because I think that kind of thing is fun. Maybe I'll see if I can borrow my dad's laptop. Or...can it be watched on the computer? I don't know about these things, and it seems boring to research it. Oh! It looks like we can watch it on YouTube? That's probably what I'll do, unless it ends up being reallllllllly slow on my computer. Or....I don't know, how are YOU doing it? And are you having snacks? Because I'm having snacks.

April 20, 2011

Chocolate Chip Mystification and Unnecessarily Sultry Underwear Models

I was talking to Indigo Girl about this on Twitter, and then realized, no, this is something I need to share with THE WORLD: I was at the grocery store this week, and the clerk DIDN'T KNOW WHAT CHOCOLATE CHIPS WERE.

Shall I pause? Do you need a moment?

I was buying quite a pile of bags of them because they were on a good sale (and as an aside, fellow customers: "SOMEONE'S doing a lot of baking!" can be said in a whole range of tones and with a whole range of accompanying facial expressions, and some of them are totally fine and some of them are TOTALLY RUDE AND YOU KNOW IT), and the clerk picked up one bag and turned it over in her hands and said, "What are these? Like, little chocolate candies?"

When I told Paul this story, he wanted to know if I'd been buying an exotic kind of chocolate chip, because some of those really do look like bags of little chocolate candies---but NO, these were regular Nestle Tollhouse Morsels, totally standard, yellow bag. And besides, it's not like when I said, "...They're chocolate chips. They're for...baking?" she said, "Oh, duh, of course! I don't know where my brain went for a minute there!" Instead she said, "Ohhhh!" in a tone of wonder. And I said, "Yeah. I use them in, like, cookies and muffins." And she said, "Huh!" like I was telling her a novel way of seasoning asparagus. Then she added, oddly: "I only eat boxed chocolates." She didn't ACT like she was putting me on.

Nor did she seem like a recent arrival in this country: I know other countries have different standard baking ingredients, and that if I were to get a job in a grocery store in one of those countries I would likely look very foolish indeed, asking questions about absolutely ordinary items. But while I didn't go so far as to verify this by examining her birth certificate, I'd say she was 100% standard United States teenager.

So. Anyway. Mystifying.

And speaking of mystifying, another Twitter topic that actually I want to talk longer about and to more people: What is with models in underwear ads looking so SULTRY? I totally get it when it's underwear being marketed as GIFTS: in that case, I EXPECT the model to be sending the message "Your significant other would TOTALLY look this hot if you bought this fancy get-up, I PROMISE!"

But if it's regular everyday cotton briefs, I want the model to just look...friendly. The same as she might look in jeans and a t-shirt. Like she's saying, "Hey, this is a nice deal on the hi-cut cotton kind you like! I like to wear these myself! They're comfy! And look, it's a Bonus 4th Pair pack!" It doesn't seem necessary for her to look like she's trying to seduce me: _I_ know not to buy them based on how SHE looks in them, and besides, she is not my type.

As Misty pointed out, this problem is just as bad with men. When I'm at Target getting another 5-pack of cottons for Paul, I feel like telling the model on the wrapper to BACK OFF, FRESHY, I am buying these for MY HUSBAND. (Also, I think men look kind of stupid when they're trying to look sexy.) (I mean, don't they? They're all "You know you want me: look how artfully I've arranged myself in this budget-friendly 100% cotton!" and I'm all "*trying to repress a snort of laughter while also wincing to think what his mother thinks of this*".) I'd prefer the guy on the underwear wrapper (do you notice how very carefully I am avoiding the use of the word "package"?) to look like a GOOD FATHER and a NICE HUSBAND. Maybe he could look like someone else's slightly flirty husband. But THAT'S AS FAR AS IT SHOULD GO.

April 19, 2011

Freecycle Frustration

I have often sung the praises of Freecycle, and I wanted to mention it this week since it's Earth Day on Friday, and Freecycle is such an excellent way to do the REUSE part of reduce-reuse-recycle---er, and I guess the REDUCE part, too. I guess I'm a little confused about those three words, because they overlap so much. My point is that Freecycle keeps some stuff from being thrown out, and it keeps people from having to purchase some things, and the whole thing is a really good idea and is the kind of practical application of a big theoretical ideal ("We should save the earth!") that I find very satisfying.

We've used it many times to avoid buying something: a crib, when Henry's broke just six months before we planned to move him out of it; crutches when Rob twisted his ankle and only needed crutches for a few days; a toaster oven when we weren't sure we'd use or like a toaster oven. We've used it to get rid of tons of stuff I felt was too "USEFUL!" to get rid of but didn't have any urge to try to sell: baby equipment, pieces of furniture, clocks, lamps.

The downside of Freecycle is that you have to deal with people, and people can be unreliable cheeseheads. You'd THINK that if you were giving something to someone for free, something they said they wanted, something where THEY chose a convenient time for THEM to come get it, that they'd come get it. And yet again and again, unbelievably to me, they DON'T come to get it. We post an item as available, and there is a big clamor for it---several people saying "Ooo ooo pick me, pick me!" We choose someone; they say they'll come the next morning, they are SO excited, they need this SO badly and have NO money. We have a moment of feeling good about the way Freecycle society works: those who have, give! those who need, receive! WHAT A GREAT SYSTEM!

Then the next morning comes and goes, and the item has not been picked up. Evening comes; still nothing. We contact the next person who was dying to have it, and they say they'll come for it after work the next day. They don't show up either.

And so on. What...IS this? I can't figure out the motivation for saying you want something and then not showing up to get it. I understand it when it's something that costs money: maybe someone acted impulsively and now doesn't want to spend the money after all. I understand it when it's "Come by the house later, honey, I have two boxes of junk to unload on you!" But I don't understand it when it's "Who wants this for free?" "ME ME ME ME ME!!!" "Okay!" "THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! *never heard from again*"

I am feeling particularly riled right now, because I am trying to get rid of my maternity clothes. Normally I don't bother giving away clothes on Freecycle, unless I happen to have a nice tidy group I'm getting rid of all at once; instead, I put them in a donation dumpster at the Humane Society. But plus-size maternity clothes are hard to find, and also I felt much squirrellier at the idea of putting them in a dumpster. So we put them on Freecycle.

MANY REPLIES. We picked the first one, and she said she was so relieved because she couldn't find plus-sized maternity clothes anywhere, and could she come by this very evening? Yes! No show.

We contacted the second one. Oh, thank goodness, she hadn't known WHAT she was going to do about clothes! She would be by in the morning. She emailed late morning to say she was having a bad bout of morning sickness and could she come after lunch? No show.

We contacted the third one, who said she couldn't believe we'd had two no-shows! She'd had a lot of no-shows this week too! But she PROMISED she wouldn't be a no-show, because she HATES no-shows! She couldn't understand why people would even DO that! She would come get the clothes the next day. NO SHOW.

It's frustrating. You might wonder if perhaps the clothes were in crummier shape than I could see with my sentimental eyes, and so maybe people DID show up but then tactfully left when they saw the clothes, and I thought of that too, but the bag was still knotted closed.

I put the clothes in the Humane Society dumpster. It's no big deal, but that was a lot of fuss for nothing. LUCKILY, this doesn't happen too often, and usually not more than one no-show per item (three was a record-breaker), or we'd probably stop doing Freecycle: it's hard to stay motivated to give away your things for nothing if there's a big hassle involved.

April 18, 2011

Peevish Box Fling

Ever since Paul rearranged our basement shelves into rows, and didn't allow enough room for my hips in one of the rows, I've felt peevish and irritable about our basement storage.

When he "dealt with" the empty boxes he thinks I'm silly for keeping (says the guy who NEVER DOES ANY OF OUR MAILING OF ANY SORT, NOT EVEN GIFTS TO HIS OWN FAMILY, nor does he handle handmedown clothing storage) by tossing them ALL willy-nilly into that too-narrow aisle, making the aisle COMPLETELY INACCESSIBLE even to parts of the body narrower than my hips AND the boxes inaccessible as well, I priced online divorces and realized a cast iron skillet and a shovel were cheaper and faster and could be reused afterward.

Every time I try to get rid of some of our STUFF, I get stopped by that aisle: I can't even get into it without taking out dozens and dozens of boxes---and doing it sideways. And the boxes were just TOSSED in there, so if you try to get one box, a whole bunch of other boxes tumble down around your ears. And I'm too mad about him making that mess (and it is SO CLASSIC: he will "store things" IN FRONT OF CLOSET DOORS, so every time I see THAT mess I remember all the other, SIMILAR messes) to make myself tackle doing the cleaning up. So I showed HIM: I left it that way for YEARS. More and more boxes accumulated: I couldn't get to the ones he'd "stored," so I saved new ones, which he sometimes added to the inaccessible pile.

Yesterday I HAD to have a box. I needed a box badly enough that it was worth rummaging in The Box Aisle. I got angry enough at my inability to find a SINGLE APPROPRIATE BOX that I flinged EVERY box out of that aisle.

I saved the few old moving boxes that are the perfect size to fit on the shelves we can now get to, and I stacked them at the far end of that aisle so that we can still ACCESS the aisle. I also saved an assortment of smallish boxes: it's pretty common for me to need a smallish box for something. I recycled ALL the rest.

Then I made a very ugly but fully functional box out of cardboard from a larger box, because in that whole pile there was not one single box the right size or even close.

April 17, 2011

Jade Plants

I have a jade plant, which I grew from a surreptitiously-snapped piece of the nice big jade plant at the vet's office. Jades are some of the easiest plants to propagate (i.e., make more of): they snap cleanly and root easily, and all you need to grow one is a V-shaped 2-leaf snippet---or 4-leaf is ideal, because that gives you some stem to work with after you snap off the bottom two leaves. Stick it in a pot of dirt and it will grow. (Or you can even root a single leaf, but it won't grow more than that: the roots come from the snapped-off place, but the new growth comes only from the crook of the V. You will have a one-leaf houseplant. Nice for small apartments.)

(Note the neat leaf-growth pattern: two leaves,
then two leaves from that V, perpendicular to the first two leaves.
Then two more leaves from the new V,
perpendicular again so that they line up with the first two.
Two this way, then two that way, back and forth.)

In fact, they are so hardy and easy to propagate, I have a story to demonstrate: the same surreptitious piece I took from the vet's office, I dropped into my purse all casual-like and forgot about it until hours and hours later, or maybe it was the next day (I hope it was the next day, because that makes a better story---but it was definitely WAY LATER), because that was the day I found out our cat George was dying so I was preoccupied and moony and not rememberful of pieces of sneakily-snapped jade dropped sneakily into purses. When I remembered it, it had been in my purse for hours and hours (or maybe a day!) and was wilted and dry looking---but I put it in soil anyway, and it rooted anyway. Good propagators, are jades, as I say.

You have to be careful where you snip, though, because the plant you snip from won't grow anymore at that spot. Or so I learned in plant biology, though now that seems suspicious to me: why wouldn't they? What I remember is that a scab forms over the wound, and the new growth can't break through it, but I might have made that up and/or emotionally imagined it. But anyway, I always choose an inconspicuous spot---or ideally, a spot where I'd like the jade to stop growing anyway. The best is when a jade puts out a new two-leaf sprout from the V of a single leaf and the stem of that leaf: that little piece can be removed without breaking a back-and-forth branch.

Another thing I learned in plant biology is that plants grown in a breeze will be stronger than plants grown in still air: they grow stronger to keep from tipping over, which can make for some good analogies if you are in the mood for it. Wind resistance is important to consider when raising baby plants in greenhouses or indoors: if they're food or otherwise staying indoors their whole lives, it doesn't matter if they can't stand up to a breeze; but if they're trees or later-season plants or whatever and your goal is to transplant them into non-greenhouse air, they need to get used to air motion or else they'll fall flat the first time you put them in it. You can toughen the plants up ahead of time with a rotating fan. Start it pretty far away, then move it closer as the plant gets used to it.

I didn't think of that with my jade plant, and it's okay because it can't live outdoors in this region anyway. But when it leaned a bit, early on, I propped it up with a bamboo skewer. Today the skewer must have shifted, and without it, the plant fell. It was bent completely over. It can't stand up without the skewer now, and it's too late to strengthen it "as it grows," because it already grew that part. And it's getting too heavy for the skewer.

Jades are often weak: I see them in offices, propped with skewers, or grown several to a pot so they can prop each other up. It might not have strengthened, even if I hadn't propped it. The leaves are heavy, and this isn't where they grow naturally.

Mine needs a new pot, too. Another vaguely-remembered plant biology detail: a rule of thumb about plants needed as much room below the soil as above it. Or was that trees, and that their roots go as wide as the tree is tall? Well anyway, it needs a new pot.

April 15, 2011

Reader Question: How Does a Second Child Change Things?

Jessica writes:
I am pregnant with our second. We have an almost-3-year-old with a speech delay and sometimes I feel like we are barely holding it together. We both work outside the home. Can you (and maybe readers) tell me how having a second child changes things? I am really scared.

This question gives me an immediate split response as I remember how HARD it was at first, and how FINE it was in the long run. What I remember about having a toddler (Rob) and a newborn (William) is walking around thinking endlessly "This can't be done. This can't be done. This can't be done." (When it happened again when Henry was born, I concluded that it's something magical about the toddler-plus-newborn combination.)

But then after awhile things got more comfortable and familiar and I thought, "Oh I get it: this is what people mean when they say 'the new normal.'" I couldn't really remember anymore what it had been like before the new baby arrived, and when I TRIED to remember I found I was imagining it must have been a blissful relaxed time with "only one" child, and how oh how did I fill my time? But as you know, and as I knew, it had NOT been like that. In fact, it had been pretty much the same as I felt now: busy, and sometimes barely keeping things together, but other times things working okay.

It would be hard to say SPECIFICALLY what changes, or how it changes, or what that's like. Remember before you had your first baby? People could tell you what it was like for them to bring home their first baby, and what changes that made in their lives and marriages, but they couldn't tell you what it would be like for you---and they couldn't really explain even their own experience well enough to give someone else a true picture of it anyway. There was nothing for it but to wait and see for yourself. Nevertheless, I can tell you some of the things that changed in our house, and others can tell you what changed at their houses.

One thing that changed for us is that it's harder for one parent to give the other a break. With one child, one parent can take the child to the store, or play with the child in another room, and the other parent can be free. With two children, one parent can still do these things with both child, but the perceived burden will be significantly higher.

On the other hand, I found that in my particular marriage, this led to my resentment levels dropping considerably: with one child, I felt like Paul was always free to go off and play on the computer or something, figuring (rightly) that there wasn't much for him to do while I was nursing the baby; with two children, it made sense to both of us that each of us should be taking care of someone. I would be dealing with the baby, and he would be busy, too, playing a game with the toddler; or I would be bathing the toddler, and he would be holding the baby. It gave me a feeling of balance and fairness that led to a happier household overall.

Another thing that changed for us is that a number of things started feeling more "worth it"---I'm thinking of as the younger child got older. Getting out all the painting stuff for one child seems like a lot of work; for two, it seemed like I was getting double value for my time and effort.

A fun change was how endlessly fascinating we found it to notice the similarities and differences between the two children. This was a game we hadn't been able to play with just one child. Taking pictures of them together was also surprisingly entertaining, as was dressing them in coordinated outfits. Geez, I know this sounds lame. BUT IT WAS FUN. Really, a very pleasing side effect of two or more.

Another change was how big our older child seemed all of a sudden. It was like he was a baby that morning, and a totally competent walker-talker that afternoon. I felt like the new baby gave me a much greater appreciation for the older child's skills---things I hadn't noticed so much before, like how nice it was that he could tell me what was wrong, or point to what he wanted, or be set down anywhere without slumping over like a cute little slug.

And the flip of this was also true: I found I could appreciate my second child's babyness so much more, because I could see it in contrast to the older child. Instead of feeling like his babyness was practically all used up at 6 weeks (as I did with my firstborn, although to be fair that was in the middle of a hormonal cry fest), I felt like he seemed small and cute endlessly. And I could appreciate the simplicity of his needs: he needed food, or warmth, or a new diaper, or snuggles---he didn't need a twentieth "Why?" answer, or to have it explained why he couldn't have my coffee, or to have me to decide how much television he could watch.

Oh dear, I don't feel like I'm answering your question AT ALL. Perhaps now is a good time to get the comments section going.

Update! Jessica writes:
Hello! A couple of years ago I sent you this question.

I wanted to tell you how incredibly reassuring this post and the subsequent comments were. I sadly ended up losing the pregnancy I was writing about, but got pregnant again a few months later and we had our beautiful second son in May 2012.

I think the biggest lesson I learned is that babies are DIFFERENT. Our first son was a difficult, difficult baby. Everything was hard -- feeding, sleeping, awake time, going out, staying in. Therefore, I fully expected our baby experience to be replicated, except also with an older version running around wreaking havoc and demanding attention.

As it turned out, our second is the proverbial "easy baby" and our very difficult toddler has matured into a only moderately difficult preschooler.

Because of my paranoia, we had arranged for a young babysitter to come play with our older son for a couple of hours a day during our baby's first few weeks, and that made a huge, huge difference, especially as I recovered from a c-section.

But my fretting was mostly unwarranted. Older son LOVES the baby, and we haven't experienced too many alarming backslides in his behavior. He tries to be too rough with the baby -- of course -- but that's pretty easily handled. Our days are intense, but joyful.

So thank you to you and the commenters for helping me through the fretful anticipation period. As is almost always the case, the worry turned out to be much worse than the reality.

April 13, 2011


I did SO MUCH boring-but-satisfying work around the house yesterday! I dispersed the contents of FOUR large bins from the basement shelves: some of it was warm-weather clothing that went into children's rooms, but I put about half of it aside to be donated: I noticed we had about twice as many pairs of shorts as I needed for Edward (probably this was the size that got lost long enough I'd finally concluded the previous child had skipped the size and so repurchased it), and also I think it's time to conclude that William is the only boy who's going to wear slims so it's safe to get rid of those handmedowns instead of hanging on to them just in case one of the two younger boys needs them, and also I threw out some jeans with holes in the knees---good thing I stored those for four years! My dining room will look SO MUCH BETTER when I finally remember to take the half-dozen bags of clothes to the donation dumpster.

I also took a binlet (like, not a BIG HUGE bin, but what do you call it so as not to give the impression of largeness?) of pure miscellany that Paul had dumped into it while moving furniture: all the pens and pencils and game pieces and refrigerator magnets and puzzle pieces and playing cards and small toys and pieces of possibly-important paper he found there. I'd been putting off dealing with it out of resentment: he got big glory for moving furniture, but would I get any for doing the fiddly cleaning up, even though it would take longer and be more of a pain? NO I WOULD NOT. And why would he just leave it there, as if somehow it were MY job? I went through it and tossed a lot of it (some of those game pieces were to games we haven't had for years), and put away the rest of it (SIX rolls of tape! no wonder I can never find tape).

I also threw out a large pretty platter. It's a neat shade of green, and it looked gorgeous sitting on our bureau with its matching pitcher on it. Until the pitcher broke several years ago. I couldn't replace the pitcher (Target clearance, long gone), but I didn't want to get rid of the platter, because every time I thought of doing so, I got mad about the broken pitcher again. As if perhaps saving the platter would mean the pitcher HADN'T broken. Anyway, I threw it out.

I planted a bunch of daffodil bulbs my mom didn't want anymore, and while I was out there I planted the little pine tree I bought around Christmastime and the blueberry twig I bought to replace the one that died over the winter.

I went through a bag of Edward's Christmas stocking stuff that turned out to be still hanging on the back of a dining room chair. I put away the few things that were in it, and threw out a handful of red and green M&Ms.

I dispersed the contents of a box I'd started as a "Donate This" box. Some things weren't even worth Freecycling, so I tossed them out. Other things were worth Freecycling, so I Freecycled them.

I gathered up the singleton gloves I'd been noticing here and there and another-there, and put them in a drawer in the mud room. I took Elizabeth's winter coat out of the mud room and hung it up in the hall closet. I found a pair of shoes, realized I hated them, realized that keeping them anyway wasn't going to get me my money's worth from them, and put them in the donation bag.

It was a lot of puttering: allowing myself to be led by what caught my eye next, instead of trying to work in a steady line across the room. And so the net effect is of a nice overall improvement, mostly in the dining room, though I also have the private satisfaction of knowing about the change in the basement a visitor wouldn't see.

And this morning I melted a bag of frozen pineapple juice into the sink, which doesn't SEEM like a big deal, and ISN'T, except that it marks The Attitude Change that comes with working steadily to improve the state of the household: I've noticed that instead of thinking, as I have for probably a year, "Oh, yeah, that bag of pineapple juice---we're obviously not going to use that after all, and anyway I'm sure it's no good anymore. Well, no sense dealing with it right this second if I'm not also going to deal with the bag of bread ends we're apparently never going to feed to ducks, and also tidy up the freezer in general, and anyway there's still plenty of room in there so there's no rush," I yoinked it when I noticed it and brought it upstairs with me and plunked it into the sink. Maybe later today I'll yoink the duck bread.

April 11, 2011

The Most Difficult Thing I Got Rid Of

I read Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things this past week, and if there's a better book to set off a little spring-cleaning binge, I don't know what it is.

Have you seen this "clutter scale" test by one of the authors?

(I got it from here, where you can see it larger and also see other sample rooms.)

Our house is a 2, without stacks of newspapers, and the downstairs family room is a 3 because we've been using it as "I'll just put this here temporarily" storage since it was built.

What I love about this chart is that I can SEE why a 2-3 feels hopeless and out of control (that is, I don't feel silly for feeling that way)---while still receiving comfort that I'm low on the scale. My goal is to be somewhere between a 1 (which looks BEYOND tidy to me---like when I was a child and if I left a book on a chair when I went to the bathroom, my mother would close it and put it away on a shelf while I was gone) and a 2.

This weekend I tried to use some of the ideas I got from the book and from a couple of other articles I've seen on the topic of decluttering and from my own thoughts---ideas like, "Could I replace this easily if I regretted getting rid of it?" "Have I used it in X years and/or do I have reason to believe I will use it?" "Do I still feel distress AFTER getting rid of it, or only when thinking about getting rid of it?" "Does it bless or oppress?" "Do I consider it my job to be the caretaker of this item forever?" "Is saving it in my basement less of a waste than getting rid of it?" etc.

I got rid of three clocks I've been storing because clocks are useful even though I don't like them and have replaced them with others. I got rid of a 3-foot stack of carefully-acquired Ladybug magazines that my firstborn loved with obsessive passion when he was 2 and none of the other kids have given the time of day. And two twin-size duvet sets I thought I'd use for Rob and William's bunks 8 years ago but then didn't. A bedskirt I got for Elizabeth 3 years ago but it didn't work with her bed frame. A 2-foot stack of partially-used children's workbooks. A package of size 2T-3T pull-ups bought on an awesome clearance and then never used.

All this is leading up to something I got rid of that I'd say might have been My Most Difficult Thing to Get Rid Of. It's something I've been gradually accumulating for a decade, and have thought MANY TIMES that I should get rid of---but then couldn't. I've felt simultaneously "The Owner of Riches" and "The Crazy Person Who Needs Help" over them.

It's twin-sized flat sheets. I make the kids' beds with only the fitted sheet and a blanket. But I keep the flat sheets, because what else could I do with them? THROW AWAY a perfectly good flat sheet, still new and folded, half the material/value of the package of sheets I just paid for? If I tried to donate it, who'd need JUST A FLAT SHEET? And what if when the kids were older I started using the flat sheets again? What if when the kids were grown I used the twin sheets on guest beds? Besides, they're so handy as drop cloths and haircutting drapes! And so many of them are so PRETTY! And they're FABRIC, and fabric is USEFUL! Fabric is a SUPPLY! If I knew how to sew I could use them to make quilts! or clothes for the children, Sound-of-Music style! Or I could make curtains that perfectly matched the bedding! And it would be perfect if I ever did that idea of wrapping gifts in pieces of fabric instead of wrapping paper! And what if there were an apocalypse? FABRIC IS USEFUL AND VALUABLE AND THESE ARE PERFECT HEMMED PIECES OF IT.

So I saved them, and continued to save them. We have five twin beds in our house, and we've had trouble with night-training more than one of the kids so I like a large supply, and also we use cotton-weave in summer and flannel in winter, and also I am always finding cute ones at 75% off, which is my way of leading up to the information that I had over 30 twin-sized flat sheets in a closet---and that's not counting the three I stored elsewhere as drop cloths and haircutting drapes. They took up 1.5 shelves in a good and useful closet. When I loaded them into bags for a Freecycler to pick up, they filled two large black garbage bags TIGHTLY.

I did save two of my favorites. They were the ones that, when I tried to put them in the bag with the others, I thought to myself, "No, never mind, this is a bad idea. I'll just put them all back on the shelf."

April 8, 2011

Planned Family

As I've previously mentioned, I went to a Christian college. I was dating a nice Christian boy by the third month of my freshman year. I was friends with a married junior/senior (when I was freshman/sophomore) girl named Lisa, and I remember her advice: "If you're NOT going to Wait, put off getting married until it's practical. If you ARE going to Wait, get married early."

My parents approved of this advice. I got married halfway through my junior year of college. I turned 20 in time for the wedding.

Here was our first practical problem: we were both full-time students at a Christian college. We could get excellent health care through the Student Health Center for practically nothing---but they wouldn't prescribe birth control: it was a Christian college, and if you prescribe for SOME students, where do you draw the line? It's a slippery slope. So even married students couldn't get birth control. But we didn't have full-time jobs, nor were we still under our parents' care, so we didn't have any other options for health insurance.

I went to Planned Parenthood, because we'd heard they charged based on how much money we made. I worked part-time in the library and my husband worked part-time for the department he was majoring in, and so I paid something small, something like $40, which we could just barely afford, for the exam that checked me for breast cancer and Internal Feminine Cancers, and then I paid $5/month for birth control pills to keep me from getting pregnant before we'd finished our education.


Fast-forward to late 2001. My husband and I had two children ages infant and nearly 3 years, and my husband lost his job: his company's main client was in the World Trade Center. With the lost job, of course, went our health insurance. I got a full-time job, but my earning power was low: I made $8/hour. At that income level, our family qualified for free government health insurance for the children, so we took it. Because I was working for $8/hour, Paul and I didn't qualify.

If we'd had another baby during this time, I and the baby would have been covered completely by the government. This was not a desirable state of life for us, despite the benefits, but my OB/GYN wouldn't prescribe the Pill without an office visit, and an office visit was significantly more than we could afford. So I went to Planned Parenthood.

Again, they decided our payment based on our income. They checked me for breast cancer and various Internal Female Cancers, and I paid $10/month for birth control pills. It would have been cheaper if I'd gotten pregnant and let the government pay for our lives, but that wasn't the way we wanted to play it.


Paul is a contractor for a company that does government work, so if there is a government shut-down, Paul is out of a job. Because he's a contractor, he's not eligible for reimbursement when the bickering is over.

April 7, 2011

Reader Question: Sleep Issues 3

Jessica writes:
Please help me! I know you don't do these often, but you do them sometimes. Will you do one now? Will you HELP. ME? I'm hoping you and your fantastic readers can help. Ava is 10 weeks old now and the kid does. not. sleep. She still wakes up every 2-3 hours to eat. And it takes her 45 minutes to eat a 4 oz bottle, so if you do the math (I can't, I'm sleep deprived) I think I'm getting like 18.4 minutes of sleep at one stretch. My boyfriend works out of state, so he's rarely home so it's just me and my 10 year old and I'm pretty sure asking her to get up with the baby is a bad idea. I read "Becoming Baby Wise" because a friend swore that it helped her get her baby to sleep...I read it, and I don't get how it helps your baby sleep. In addition to her constant waking at night, she also doesn't nap. She'll take a 15 minute cat nap here and there, but that's it. I've tried letting her sleep in her bouncy chair and her swing, doesn't make her stay asleep longer. I've tried laying her down in her bassinet or her crib when she's looking sleepy, she wakes RIGHT up and is pissed. I've tried letting her "cry it out", and I hate it. I did it for 30 minutes and she just got more and more mad to the point where she started choking. (Can't do that at night anyway, because the 10 year old will wake up!) The only way I can get her to sleep during the day is if we run an errand (but it has to be longer than a half hour), she'll fall asleep in her car seat and then I just leave her in it when we get home (I know, I'm mean). I realize she's only 10 weeks old and she's BRAND NEW, but when I read that 10 weeks old require 15-18 hours of sleep, I want to cry. Here's what we're doing now: 9pm, bottle, bed time routine & asleep (was doing 7pm, but she wakes up at 10) She's up at 11, 2, 5 and then 6:30 (we never leave the nursery when she wakes) and SOMETIMES I can get her back to sleep until 8. I'm exhausted, my parents have offered to come over during the day to let me nap, but I am seriously incapable of sleeping during they day, unless I drug myself into it, and then I'm a mess the rest of the day. I have to go back to work soon, and there is no way I'll be able to function like this. Do I just have to wait, or do you have some killer advice? I'm hoping between you and your readers, someone can help! I'm going crazy. I realize this email is all over the place, but my brain function is limited these days. If it helps to know, she's bottle fed (formula).

Oh, dude, I SO WISH I had AWESOME EXPERT FIVE-CHILD ADVICE for you, but do you know, I don't think I EVER successfully solved a sleep issue, or at least not without another issue cropping right up. I consider them NIGHTMARES to handle. I will tell you EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT SLEEP, and it will not take long:

1. That thing I read a few other places, about the baby's first nap of the day being about an hour and a half after the baby wakes up. This BLEW MY MIND because it seemed so counter-intuitive: why would the baby go back to sleep again so soon after waking? But indeed, if I put my babies down at about that interval, they DID go to sleep. (This does not mean it will work for your baby; see #2.)

2. That babies are SO DIFFERENT about sleep, and that what works for one person works for someone else only by SHEER COINCIDENCE. This can be excruciatingly annoying when you've got a Poor Sleeper and a friend is telling you that if you would "just" do X and Y, YOUR baby would sleep like HER baby did. When actually what it was, was that she got a Good Sleeper and is crediting her Awesome Techniques for it, and/or that her baby happened to respond well to the particular technique. This is one of the areas where I feel like working in a daycare did me HUGE FAVORS: the more babies a person handles, the more a person is forced to accept that some babies work one way and some babies work another way and there isn't much that can be done to change that.

3. That it also matters what works for YOU the parent. As you've noticed, some people can nap during the day and some can't. People have different levels of tolerance for crying, and different abilities to adjust to different levels of sleep. People also vary tremendously in their willingness to do certain things such as swing sleep, tummy sleep, car sleep, on-me sleep. What works for you will be different than what works for another parent, just as what works for your baby will be different than what works for another baby. And this may change over time.

4. It is worth continuing to try things. There are so many stories of families that struggled and struggled and struggled and struggled, and then they tried their hundredth thing and THAT worked for THEIR baby.

5. But if it DOESN'T happen like that, see #2.

6. Are you able to doze in a recliner while you feed her at night? I did that for a lot of night feedings, but I know people vary in their dozing abilities. I used a lot of pillows to prop everything securely, and then I'd drift off. Sometimes this meant I woke up in the recliner in the morning, baby asleep next to me.

7. When you go back to work, will she be in daycare during the day? I've heard encouraging stories of daycares sleep-training the child during the day, which then results in better nighttime sleep as well.

And now let's turn it over to the group, because THAT is where I think the valuable advice is: when you can see a huge pool of advice like that, you can see the amazing variety of possibilities and you can pick-and-choose and try different things.

(You can also look at the comments from two previous sleep-issue questions: this one is my favorite and I say a bunch of things I would have also said to you except I felt self-conscious about repeating myself, and this one is also my favorite, for the same reasons, and the comments sections on both posts are SO GOOD.)

April 5, 2011

Pap, Baby Sadness, Geek Love

May I impose upon your time and squeeze from you a moment of sympathy? Because my pap test, which I left 6 months overdue because of phone phobia -slash- scheduling hopelessness, and then had a HORRIBLE conversation with a receptionist that led to me making the appointment with a doctor other than the one I wanted, as if I didn't PLENTY dread the appointment already---THAT same appointment led to a test that had "insufficient cells for analysis" and I have to have A DO-OVER PAP TEST. I am not even kidding. And, as the doctor I didn't want (who turned out to be okay, but THAT IS NOT EVEN THE POINT) said, I "do not seem like a woman who has five children." That is, THIS IS A VERY UNCOMFORTABLE TEST FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS HAD ONLY C-SECTIONS.

Thank you. I appreciate your sympathy/pity. Thank you. Yes. Keep it coming. Thank you so much.

Speaking of that general area of the body, I have had Baby Sadness today, a particularly bad spike of it. I told Paul that it seemed pretty dim that just when I would feel like I couldn't manage/appreciate the five I had, and just as I wished we could flash-forward five years and be done with some of this crap, that I would be plagued by Baby Cravings. And Paul said no, it made sense to him: that when our current children were being all smelly and unpleasant and disobedient, it seemed appropriate I would crave a nice fresh newborn. (His eyes were kind of damp too, I'll note. He's not as crazy about the newborn stage as I am, but he is very fond of the Post-Newborn Baby stage.)

I'm so grateful that some of you are expecting babies. It helps so much. I know that some people, when experiencing Baby Sadness, resent pregnant people----but I, probably because I have FIVE CHILDREN OMG THAT IS TOO MANY CHILDREN FOR RESENTMENT IN ANY FORM, feel comforted: it gives me a feeling of "There will still be new babies and new-baby happiness and new-baby excitement, even if they are not MY babies."

Speaking of whatever we were speaking of and how it applies to this next topic, I don't know which of you recommended the book Geek Love, but whoever it was did a really short review along the lines of "I can't even describe this book but it blew my mind and you should read it." That is how I feel about it as well. I can't even describe it---or at least, not without totally misleading you. It blew my mind.

I finished reading it the day before yesterday, so I'm far enough away from it to safely say I really, really liked it. And yet---it is the sort of book I would be reluctant to recommend. It reminded me of when Paul and I watched the movie Up with my parents, and all four of us were first all weepy (okay, TWO of us were weepy), and then we were all WTF?? and then we were laughing, and then back to WTF?? and so on. We had NO IDEA where that movie was going. Same with Geek Love: it had computer-geek font on the cover and computer-geek orangey-yellow on the cover, but IT IS NOT ABOUT THE COMPUTER KIND OF GEEK. And I don't even know if I recommend it to you or not. I leave it as the reviewer I read left it, which was basically, "I can't even describe this book, just read it." [Edited to add: Okay, this is interesting. We have documentation (comments section) that this post from Hilarity in Shoes is what caused me to add the book to my library list. And yet, that's not the review I'm thinking of.]

April 4, 2011

Recurring Dreams

Elizabelle posted today about elevator dreams and I got all excited because I have SO MANY elevator dreams. So many! They're ALWAYS stressful dreams: I can't find the right elevator, or it takes me to the wrong place, or it's broken, or I can't find / figure out the buttons, or whatever.

I also have a recurring "Finding a room I didn't know we had" dream. These are ALWAYS good dreams, good enough that I feel sad when I wake up and we DON'T have an extra room. Sometimes the extra room is a whole BUNCH of extra rooms: I open a door and there's a whole WING, a whole HOUSE WORTH of rooms to explore.

I used to have the "finding money" dream, where I'd see a quarter in the sand by the side of the road, and hey, under it is a dime, and now I see another quarter and two more dimes, and OH MAN there is a RICH VEIN of coinage here! I haven't had that one in ages.

Unpleasantly often I dream that I'm having a confrontation with someone, and I get so angry I start trying to hit them but my arms are too weak to manage it, which makes me even angrier and also I'm crying with frustration and also I'm feeling awful about trying to hit them and shocked at my impropriety.

I frequently have "packing" dreams, where I need to pack for a trip or for an emergency or for a move, and I just can't get organized and the time to leave is getting closer and closer. These are usually stress dreams, but sometimes can be pleasant if I'm more organized and having some success with the task.

I can't remember where it was, but recently someone wrote something about how you have school dreams for "a few years" after leaving school---but I left school fifteen years ago and it's still one of my most common dream themes. Usually it's the "can't figure out my schedule, can't remember what class to go to next or where the classroom is, can't find my locker" variety. Once I reassured myself upon waking from a particularly drawn-out and unpleasant example of the genre that if ever such a thing DID happen, of course I could just go to the school office and they'd help. So then the next time I had the dream, I remembered that---and I couldn't find the school office, and when I DID find it no one was at the desk. Thank you, brain, for kicking that comforting thought out from under me!

April 3, 2011

Sims, Buckets, Shirts

I've been playing Sims again, and MY GOODNESS I would like to re-recommend this game to anyone anticipating a baby, because it was one of the reasons I survived post-partum: it gets you in the mindset of improving overall mood by doing whatever is possible (e.g., even just PEEING helps considerably), and it reinforces the drops IN the bucket idea. I've found it useful even now, when I'm not post-partum but HAVE been in a bit of a MOOD. Playing Sims again has made me start thinking in terms of "little things that will make me feel overall better." If I'm starting to kick the cats (NOTE: I do not really kick the cats) or yell at the children (NOTE: Er...), I have a little snack and then I clean up one small thing and then I get a drink of water and then I spend a little time reading a magazine, and gradually the diamond over my head is greening up ( <--- game reference). On the other hand, when I'm playing it I sometimes think "Why am I doing chores and feeding children and struggling to keep up FOR FUN?"

Speaking of buckets (it was like mid-paragraph), I'm so glad to see the summer toys back in stock at Target, because we needed a new Barf Bucket and those are hard to find off-season. I got a nice colorful pail for I think two dollars, and this time I put it up high so no one would use it upside-down as a step stool -slash- launching platform, which is what happened to our previous Barf Bucket. These beach-toy pails also make good Easter baskets or egg-hunt buckets: they're several times sturdier than the plastic Easter pails sold one section over.

Yesterday my mom and I were out and I decided I needed a new shirt, so I tried on a dozen. I found one I liked, but it had a hole in it and there weren't any others. I found another I liked, but it was cotton weave and it was belted, and I don't know if I would wear a belted shirt after living through the 1980s. All the rest were depressing: why are SO MANY plus-sized shirts designed for OLDER LADIES? I am aware of the whole "gaining weight with age" idea, but surely we are all also aware of "being that weight to begin with"? So shouldn't there be a RANGE of shirts, some designed for old ladies and some designed for...I guess "young" wouldn't be quite the word anymore, but YOUNGER ladies? Being plumpish doesn't mean I want sequins and big distracting patterns and those drapey little sleeves and everything in rayon. And some of them were even "juniors plus" so they were INTENDED for young fashionable girls and yet they STILL looked like Golden Girls. What I wanted was the cute shirts I saw in the "misses" sizes, but LARGER.

April 1, 2011

Cheeseburger Without Cheese

Sam Harris on the lack of need for the word "atheism": "Nearly everyone rejects Zeus, Thor, Isis, along with the countless other dead gods of antiquity, and yet no one feels the need to name this condition of unbelief." I liked the sound of that until I realized this: "theism" means the belief in ANY god, not ALL gods---so an "atheist" would mean specifically someone who doesn't believe in a single one of them, as opposed to someone who, as typical for a theist, believes in one god or a certain group of gods, but not the others. There isn't a need to "name the condition of unbelief" of those who disbelieve in specific ones of the available gods, because that's already got a word, which is "theist." It makes sense to me that if pretty much everyone who believes in a god or gods believes in some but not all gods, that we WOULD want a specific word for someone who believes in none of them.

But his point stands even if I think it wasn't well-illustrated by that particular example. He goes on to say that we don't have special words to indicate our lack of belief in most other things. I don't believe in horoscopes, but no one makes me identify myself as an anti-astrologist, and no one asks what horoscope-related trauma caused me to give up my faith in horoscopes. Did I perhaps have a bad experience with people who DID believe in horoscopes? Do I realize that horoscopists aren't perfect, just predictable? I should try THEIR newspaper's horoscope, because if I was trying some OTHER newspaper's horoscope, of COURSE I didn't feel like it was for me. Etc. Nor do I have to call myself a non-vegetarian non-Gemini non-doctor.

Having a word that means "not-that" helps give the impression that "that" is what's normal and right---as opposed to "that" being an addition to the standard model. Better to have words for "plain" and "plain plus the religion option," rather than to have words for "plain plus religious" and "plain plus religious but minus the religious." Better to have "hamburger" and "cheeseburger," rather than "cheeseburger" and "cheeseburger without cheese."


As I do each year, I have a sticky note on my computer monitor with "APRIL FOOLS' DAY" written on it. Otherwise (or perhaps I should say "Even so") I tend to fall for things, like the year I believed the most popular rock station in our college city was changing to an all-polka format. Or the year I believed Google had started a dating service, which I STILL think was an AWESOME IDEA. (Did you see this year's Google prank?)

Every year I hope not to fall for a fake pregnancy announcement: I'd get so happy and excited, and the disappointment of finding out it wasn't true would be so awful. So far I haven't fallen for one, but I did fall for one on a non-April-1 day when a Facebook friend did the "I'm expecting!!" joke where the punchline is "...snow!," so I got a sample of what that feels like ("really good followed by really bad").