Thursday, November 24, 2011

A gratitude that is never threadbare.

On this day, I enjoyed this editorial.

Family, food, and hanging out in the kitchen are some of my favorite things, so this holiday always ends up being a cozy, fun, happy one at our house. And although "[i]t is not the feast we give thanks for, but our presence at it," I am also grateful for the eats. And I am telling you -- I would put any amount of money on this -- no person on this planet could possibly tell that this was a vegan pumpkin pie with a block tofu in it! It's the best pumpkin pie I have ever had.

I'm thankful every day for my Ben and my Bee, and we had a beautiful holiday today with family. What a fun day. The little girl learned how to throw a ball today, and she GAVE ME A KISS, kind of a real kiss, for the first time! My heart pretty much melted and dripped out my big toe. Of course, I'd been begging her to give me a smooch on the cheek for about a week, ever since I realized she had entered some kind of mind-boggling, mental-sponge phase of existence during which we seem to be able to be able to teach her how to do just about anything.* I know learning how to give mommy a peck on the cheek isn't, at this point, much different than learning how to clap, or wave bye-bye, but I don't care. I choose to confer meaning upon this particular baby trick. I choose to consider it an act of affection [requiring significant persuasion].

I hope your holiday, Dear Reader, was filled, too, with tofu desserts and reluctant baby kisses! Happy Thanksgiving!

* Except sleep.

How to make a paper flower garland,
plus birthday party recap























I keep meaning to write a little something about Bee's birthday party, a small but agreeable affair involving homemade cake, some magenta paper roses, and a handful of friends, neighbors, and like-aged toddlers. Now that I get around to blogging about it, of course, I realize that the first sentence of this paragraph sums it up compactly and completely. What else to say, except that we had a sweet little time? And that I am a lucky mama for sure. It's going to be a beautiful thing, watching these little ones -- Bee and her peers -- grow big.

Now. As for those cutie-cute paper flowers. What happened is, I made a rose garland for an inexpensive party decoration. (I'll tell you how below. It is really no big thing.) Ridiculously, I failed to get an acceptable picture of the finished garland, but I do have these pretty a priori pics of the paper flowers pre-stringing. They will do, I say. They made kind of a charming decoration in the dining room that day, and, nowadays, the roses are strung around the perimeter of Bee's white wicker bedroom mirror, a cute birthday souvenir that she would chew up at the first opportunity.

Here's how to make a paper rose garland.

You need:
One package of colored tissue paper, the kind used for gift wrapping.
A roll of green painters' tape ("frog tape").
Scissors.
A pen or marker. It's nice if the ink is close in color to that of the tissue paper, but a bit darker, so that your lines won't be visible on the finished flowers.
Sewing needle.
Green or transparent thread.
2 thumbtacks.
Instructions:
  1. Unfold the tissue paper. Lay three or four sheets on top of each other (you're going to be maximizing your cutting by cutting through several sheets at once -- time is money, people!).
  2. Use the roll of green painters' tape to trace circles onto the top sheet of tissue paper. Trace around the outer edge unless you want miniature flowers -- in which case, use the inner edge. Trace as many circles as you can fit onto the top sheet.
  3. Cut out all the circles, cutting through all sheets.
  4. Assemble the flowers. Grab four little circles, hold them together, and loosely fold in half. You're not going for a crease here... just sort of gently hold the circles in a folded-in-half position. Grab the center and twist so that the circles stay together.
  5. Wrap about an inch and a half of green tape around the twisted part to make a bit of a stem.
  6. Fluff out the petals!
  7. After you've made all the flowers you can stand, thread the needle and sew through each of the flowers. They don't all need to go on facing the same direction. In fact, it looks better if they're not too meticulously arranged. Don't overthink it.
  8. Leave enough thread at the beginning and end of the garland that you can tie a loop at each end. Use thumbtacks to hang. Do enlist somebody (do you have a husband or something?) to help you carry the garland when you're hanging it up. One human being at each end, please! If the thread gets tangled, you're in for several minutes of pre-party cussing.
And, postscript, I think an esteemed board of some kind should award me a Crafting Under Duress prize before the end of 2011, because I did a significant portion of this silly project* while holding a snoring baby in my arms.
* Not the part with the scissors.


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

One.













Bee turned one! One year old! Oh, our girl. Sweet bunny of ours. What a very long and short time a year is, or at least such a year as this has been.

This little girl has really flowered in the last several months. Bee is radiant, and seems to be learning all the time (it's all happening so fast now!), and has developed what is clearly, and surprisingly, a fantastic sense of humor. Little girl! Where do you come from?!

To raise a child is to have a mystery revealed to oneself.

We gave Bee a couple of little presents for her birthday, including this great clickety-clack push toy,* and she shocked us by immediately standing up and taking several steps while pushing the thing! I mean, she's been pulling herself up and hanging onto the furniture (for dear life, both thrilled and nervous), taking only the occasional guarded step or two -- so Ben and I were astonished to see her just get up and go. It's further evidence that, as my friend Kara puts it, toys are an investment. It's really true. The right toy at the right time can be so great for a kid's development and for her enjoyment of life!

We did have a little party in Bee's honor, and I'll report on that sweet event, Dear Reader, before too long. Our household became Contagion Headquarters shortly after Bee's birthday, and we've all been feeling like a bunch of crap, on and off, for what feels like about a month. So I'm taking my good old time getting photos together and whatevers. For now: a couple pics of our gal standing around like it's totally no big deal.**
















* The chomping/clickety-clacking is actually really soft/gentle/pleasant. Thank god the makers of wooden toys know enough to cover things in felt.
** Wearing a cardigan I made her AND a hat I made her. Bam!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

A prairie life for me.















Well, Bee and I dressed up as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder for Halloween. Cute! Fun! Ben's mom made Bee's dress, and I bought her baby-sized prairie bonnet at the historical society (it's going to be next summer's sun hat, too... don't care if that's weird). For my DIY contribution, I knitted up a pair of barely-staying-on prairie boots (Ravelry link) for her. Two pairs, if I'm honest -- the first set was too small (I think I screamed, "noooooooo!" upon realizing it).

As for my own costume, it's more or less the same LIW one I've worn lo these many Halloweens... at some point I procured better boots and an amazing petticoat, and I did upgrade to the more historically accurate dress after that sweet Gunne Sax one* finally stopped fitting! Ironically, after my year of not being able to eat anything delicious, the Gunne Sax dress would definitely fit again... but I got rid of it when we moved. And at this point, I've invested enough dough in costume improvements (over the better part of a decade) that I'm basically locked into dressing as LIW every October for the rest of my life. Which is fine by me, especially since having a kid means I get to create a new costume each year anyway. Yes, soon enough Bee will be able to come up with her own costume ideas, and I like to think I'll be happy to help bring her concepts to life, but I figure I still have next Halloween to dress her however I damn well choose (because two-year-olds don't have opinions about things, right? HAHAHA). And I do have some thoughts (and also these other thoughts) on Bee's 2012 costume already...

Anyway, on Halloween, Ben,** Bee, and I went trick-or-treating with some friends. Since we didn't want any candy (Bee's too young, we're vegan, Ben is still eating last year's candy, etc.), it really amounted to visiting the neighbors to show off our prairie girl costumes. Of course, Bee, at a year old, didn't understand anything about Halloween. But she did understand that she was outside being trotted around the neighborhood (in the dark!) instead of getting a bath and going to bed, so she was pretty high on life. And the jack-o'-lanterns on neighbors' porches made her laugh, which made us laugh. Yayz! Halloween!

October being a holiday-studded month for us, I'll share with you next time, Dear Reader, a recap of Bee's first birthday party. Honestly, with all the birthdays around here, beginning in mid-October, it's ALL HOLIDAYS ALL THE TIME until the new year.

* Oh, that Gunne Sax dress. Man. I wore that thing frequently in college as a non-costume, with some Nine West boots. (A 1970s dress was already vintage back then.)
** Uncostumed. I've graciously stopped trying to convince Ben to dress up as Charles 'Pa' Ingalls, because, you know, we have to let our spouses make their own choices in life, right? Even if we think it's a TERRIBLE MISTAKE.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Somehow I've managed to resist running from the house screaming for a full year.

I turned 35 this month, but I still feel like a ninteteen-year-old English major. I really do.

Just, you know... more tired.

Thought I'd update you today on what a 35-year-old does to entertain herself. First of all, after discovering some knitting time in my daily routine, I basically went crackers and started like 20 different projects. (Not exaggerating. Are you and I friends on Ravelry, Dear Reader? If so, go click on my name and have a good laugh! How many Norwegian Baby Caps have I started this month? That's right, six.)

I've also turned into Crazy Birthday Party Mommy and am throwing a little shindig next weekend to celebrate Bee's birthday. So we have to clean up the wreckage that is our house, and I'll be baking practice cake #2 later tonight BECAUSE I'M A FREAK. The first one, a cake-sized version of the Golden Vanilla cupcake from VCTOTW, came out with a strong baking soda taste. (Cake, Y U NO TASTE GOOD?!) The second cake will be the same recipe, but I'll bust open a brand-new box of baking soda, and probably use potato starch instead of guar gum (GG being what I used in place of corn starch, due to Bee's probably-gone-but-we're-not-sure-and-we-don't-want-her-to-be-writhing-in-pain-on-her-birthday allergy to corn). Confused and a little bored? So are we!

In other news, our almost-one-year-old still doesn't sleep in her crib, and I'm considering just using the damned thing as a big basket to hold all my yarn. (Joking, sort of.) Oh, and Bee still only naps in my lap (which, on the bright side, is how I turn out all those Norwegian Baby Caps). Can't believe we've been living like this for nearly a year, but whatever. Also, all three of us have an evil cold that Bee probably contracted at the local library, during the chaos that was last week's free puppet show.

One more thing. In 2012, I totally want to make an advent calendar. It's going to be based on this one, with design elements from this one (I love the white frame against the black base!) and this one. Wouldn't a combination of boxes and clothespins be cute? And wouldn't it be great if I wouldn't get craft-manic and start all these crazy projects? Yes.

P.S. Ben also had a birthday recently, and I made him a really crappy cake. Honestly, I should have taken a picture. Because gluten is banned from my diet, I haven't baked much in the last year and kinda forgot how.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Some things.

Some things I've been up to since I posted two weeks ago:

Made these gluten-free root veggie latkes. You guys! They were so good!

Started taking Bee to once-a-week baby and toddler "music class," which is totally as yuppie as you'd think. The first song of the morning is one that welcomes the kids, the mommies, the daddies, and the nannies. And I get sweaty and think, "man, I do not belong here." But Bee loves it, so whatever.

Visited our town's new yarn shop. OMG. It's six blocks from our house. For real.

Went berserk and cast on like nine different knitting projects. (See new yarn shop, above.) And finished one (Ravelry link)!

Found out about Steve Jobs' death, and felt sad. As an illustrator, I'm one of the zillions of people who continue to benefit from Jobs' life work every single day. Jobs was the visionary behind so many of the tools that allow me to interact creatively with technology in my profession. (And he invented the iPod, enabling me to listen to Meat Loaf, watch "Family Ties," and update my Facebook status on an aesthetically attractive device the size of half a Pop-Tart. Which is cool, I'm sorry.)

Was exposed to Paul Simon's Graceland album. Okay, now, what the hell? How did I never hear that record until I was nearly 35? What a lyricist, that guy! It's like when I was 31 and heard Hunky-Dory for the first time. I actually experienced anger (WHY DIDN'T ANYONE EVER MAKE ME LISTEN TO THIS BEFORE!). Honestly, what other great records of the 70s and 80s am I in the dark about?*

Started drinking afternoon coffee on a regular basis. (Morning coffee was already standard.)

Put away my warm-weather clothes and trotted out the sweaters.**

Determined that no one needs this many vintage sweaters, but was unable to purge any.

Bought Bee her first pair of shoes! We drove out to an old-fashioned family-owned place where our girl got her foot measured and such. She was assigned a pair of high-quality (if pizazz-free) shoes that cost more than my own shoes.

Cooked my last batch of marinara of the season from garden (and CSA) tomatoes.

Baked three squash(es?).

* Yes, I already know about Neil Young's Harvest.
**
Of course, it then got bizarrely hot. It was 88 degrees out yesterday! In Minnesota, I'm saying, in October. But I can be flexible. Nice weather is nice weather, even when you're overheating in corduroys.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Smitten

Mittens for babies and toddlers are really fun to make because they turn out looking so charming and miniature, and are gratifyingly quick compared to, say, a sweater. Plus, unlike with adult-sized mittens, you don’t have to worry about knitting that pesky thumb. I don’t know about your babies, but my girl has a miniscule thumb that wouldn’t possibly stay lodged in a mitten-thumb anyhow. So why fuss with gussets?*

The mittens in the photo are
the special Noro ones I mentioned last time, in my “back in the land of the knitting” post. What sweet little hand-warmers! I dug up some pretty, eggplanty** Lamb’s Pride wool for the cuff and tip of each mitt, used up my hand-dyed Noro leftovers for the body of each mitten, and worked a four-pointed star at the tip of each – that being about as much intarsia, Dear Reader, as I can gracefully handle.

The fraternal mitts are attached by the prettiest silk ribbon on earth, which is long enough to thread through the sleeves of Bee’s winter coat. Expensive Japanese wool? Silk ribbon? I know, by January these mittens are totally going to end up lost in a filthy puddle of melty slush in the street, as every toddler mitten eventually does and must. But I’m not worried. I want my daughter to be surrounded by things of beauty, and to know that she’s worth the work of creating them.

That being said, I’ve just finished a second, slightly less over-the-top pair of mittens as back-ups. And because I happened to have wool in exactly the right colors lying around, this pair matches Bee’s winter coat with ridiculous, matchy-matchy precision. They’re a bit more utilitarian than the Noro pair (and identical rather than fraternal!), being made with some standard light worsted, but they’re still kind of terrific, I think. I’ll finish them after a day or two of nap-knitting, and then you shall see them in all their splendid orange-and-magenta-ness.

For both pairs of toddler mittens, I improvised a pattern that I’m unlikely ever to post here, as I know for a fact that the majority of knitters do not enjoy working from hastily scrawled, error-laden patterns created by the frazzled mothers of young children.


* Truth be told, I love doing gussets. For socks and grown-up-sized gloves and mittens, they’re necessary and pretty fun to do. But not having to add a thumb to baby mittens makes them really fast to knit, and I do respond well to that sort of semi-instant gratification.

** Indeed, this eggplanty yarn is left over from when I knitted (yep, you guessed it) an eggplant. I’m telling you, some Christmas down the road, Bee is gonna unwrap the best collection of stuffed play food EVER.

Friday, September 09, 2011

I am so happy.

Leave it to a knitter to effuse over how much she loves a particular knitting pattern, and then outline the many modifications she made while knitting it.

The first project I cast on – after realizing that I could knit while Bee naps in my lap!!!* – is this fine-gauge little red cardigan. It’s Carole Barenys’ seamless yoked sweater (Rav link), which has been knitted up by about a zillion Ravelers, in part because it has the fantastic asset of being both seamless and top-down.** So: almost no sewing (just buttons, and there’s a certain conclusive thrill to button-sewing), and, in theory, you can try the sweater on its recipient to determine, periodically, how much longer to make the body and the sleeves. My model, though, is under a year old, and immensely wiggly. I wonder if Tyra Banks wiggles around this much when being wrangled into designer dresses? Also, does she chew her socks?

Anyway, regarding mods, I added length and a sixth buttonhole, and picked up extra stitches at the armholes, working 40 stitches for each sleeve rather than the suggested 30-something. I wanted the slip-stitch design on the sleeves to match the yoke, so I did three repeats of the slip-stitch design at the end of each sleeve, with two stockinette stitch rows between each set of two slip-stitch rows. I also lengthened the garter stitch edge of each sleeve (P1R, K1R three times), because I like the look of a generous cuff. And, anyone still with me here?, I created a bell sleeve by omitting the sleeve decreases; the pattern calls for decreasing to 36 sts, and then to 32, but I just knit straight. And since garter stitch is wider than stockinette, the garter stitch cuff creates a slight flare. Easy, sweet bell sleeves, with no need to increase!

The only headache I had with this sweater involved adding stitches under the arms: the pattern calls for you to pick up stitches, but what you really want to do is pick up and knit. There is a difference, and if you use the wrong technique, the result is a set of ugly, stretched stitches under the arm. So I had to frog. I ripped out the first sleeve twice, actually, before figuring out the difference.

The pattern being easy, and knit all in one piece (and mostly flat!), I started a second one before the sock-weight red one was even finished (which it now almost is… nothin’ left but button-sewing!). The second one (photo at left), also for my many-sweatered daughter, is thicker and warmer. I used worsted-weight and what I thought were size five needles (because they were marked size five needles!). Well, they’re actually fours,*** so this is a very tightly-knit garment indeed. Aaaand since I never, ever learn my lesson about employing unidentifiable stash wool of limited quantity, I’m going to run out of this sweet, heathery, mulberry-hued wool (of which I cannot procure more) before the project is done. Time to grin and add some stripes, I guess! Actually, joking, I have a different secret plan, which I’ll elucidate later when I’ve started to put it into action.****

Next! I started, and then completely frogged, this cute toddler vest (Ravelry link) that’s going to have three owls on the front. Owl cables took the knitting world by storm last year, for real, and now Ravelry’s got them on gloves, vests, hats, adult-sized sweaters, kids’ raglans, everything you can think of. Owl cables OWL OVER THE PLACE! And I’m certainly not saying I was the first to do it, but my father-in-law does have in his possession a certain winter cap that has warmed his head since the Christmas of 2007. Anyway, this owly vest is technically not on the needles anymore, because I didn’t like the vintage stash yarn I was using and am going to begin anew, but I’m actively looking for a new yarn for it, so it counts as an active project in my book. I’ve been referring to this toddler garment as Vestination Unknown, because I’m not sure who it’s for yet. No, really! I’m serious, it’s not necessarily for Bee! It depends on how large or small this vest turns out, because if it’s not gigantic I’d like to see it on the new baby boy who has recently graced my circle of friends.

The final WIP I’ve got going on is a set of bitty little mittens made of leftover Noro. No photo today, but if you’re a knitter you surely know what Noro looks like, and can extrapolate. And If you’re not a knitter,***** I’ll just explain that Noro is Japanese and beautiful and expensive. So a set of violet-colorway toddler mittens made of it is indulgent indeed! But, as I mentioned, I have a bit remaining from a sock project of yore, and baby mittens are a good use of yarn oddments.

Lest you think I am a 100% quick and amazing and effective lap-nap knitter, here’s an update on the status of a pink sweater from days gone by. Notice the sad bits of yarn clinging to the tote.









Okay! After almost no knitting tawk for months, there’s your FM of K. I enjoyed it very much, and hope that you either a) relished geeking out with me or b) skipped this post altogether (no offense taken).

Fear not, non-knitters: I imagine I’ll soon be back to criticizing the climate and trying to make sense of motherhood.

* It only took me ten months to figure this out. Knitters are generally quite smart; I may be the exception.

** And cute!

*** You can kind of see where I irritably re-labeled the needles with a fine-tipped Sharpie. Take that, disguised number fours! They’re marred now, of course, and I do like my knitting things to be physically beautiful. But come on. Wrong sizing is so not okay.

**** Knitters always have a last-ditch secret plan for when we run out of an unreplenishable yarn.

***** And if you’re not a knitter, you aren’t even reading this.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

FM of K

I’m still unwilling to admit, Dear Reader, that I might be over-promising when it comes to the “frequent mention of knitting” part of my mission statement. Although I’ve barely blogged about knitting (or actually knitted) since Bee was born, I’m still one of those crazy knitters that thinks about knitting all the time. I’m always a knitter. Even now, I look at patterns and buy yarn and count the days until my town’s new yarn shop opens up (FIVE BLOCKS FROM MY HOUSE!). Knitterhood is part of my identity and I’m cool with that. I’m more than cool with it, actually; knitting is a source of pride and community and creativity and pleasure and comfort – even when I don’t have two free hands with which to clasp needles. But thank god there’s no $5 Ravelry Extra that logs our hours spent pattern-browsing* and yarn-cataloging (with a baby in one’s lap), that’s all I am saying.

Before I was a parent, “frequent mention of knitting” was not just possible – not only probable – but assured. In fact, knitting, and its frequent mention, was pretty much my idée fixe, a pursuit simultaneously requiring a certain elegant logic and allowing a wild inventiveness. Knitting was artistic, time-consuming, challenging, and fun, so I used to knit torrentially. With a complete lack of restraint. I made sw
eaters, stuffed animals, hats, mittens, baby things (for friends’ babies, and then for my own – before she was born, of course), socks, a burger and fries, all manner of cosy. You know. Knitting. All the time. All over the place. Always and forever.

That kind of uninhibited, gung-ho pursuit of a hobby worked out great when I was in my twenties and had, like many young people of my general socioeconomic situation, nothing better to do but work for a badly operated nonprofit, make pancakes for dinner, and go to rock shows with my boyfriend. Later, knitting still fit snugly into my pre-motherhood life, when career became somewhat more important but not all-encompassing. I could work and still knit, be married and still knit, buy a house and still knit, even go back to school and still knit. It was, as we used to say back in the ebullient ‘nineties, “all good.”


Along came Bee, though. Sweet, exacting girl.
Since I basically haven’t set the kid down in the last ten months, there hasn’t been a lot of knitting going on around here, and I now surmise that the Romans’ poena magna refers to the great pain of no longer having time to knit. Every now and then I glance longingly toward my workbasket – I caress my rosewood needles in passing – I ‘favorite’ every garment of seamless construction on Ravelry – I even place a Knit Picks order – but I don’t actually knit.

At least, not until two weeks ago.


Two weeks ago: that’s when I discovered, oh my GOD, that I can knit while Bee sleeps in my lap! (Because every nap of her life has been in my lap. I know, it’s insane, but, trust me, if it could be any other way, we would make it be some other way.) Now, if only I were smarter and quicker and had thought of this knitting-with-a-baby-in-my-lap scheme months ago! I could have been carefully and quietly knitting miles of Cascade 220 socks instead of hustling through the Fairacre series or watching TV on my laptop with headphones.


So, I knit again! And for the last two weeks, I have looked forward to Bee’s lap-naps with high glee, which must be how the parents of normal-napping babies feel every time they put their kid down in the crib to sleep. Coming in the next few days, Dear Reader, is a report on the FOUR active knitting projects I’ve got going on right now. (Four, friends. This doesn’t count some sad hibernating intarsia socks, a closet-living orange hat, and a still-to-be-seamed sweater of old, none of which I can be persuaded to look at.

But here’s an advance glance (“sneak peek” is a trifle overworked, don’t you agree?) at one of the little slip-stitch sweaters I’m making for (of course) Bee. I’ll tell you all about it, and other lap-nap projects, on the morrow. Or the morrow after that.








* knitting > free > construction:seamless > keyword:cardigan. Like a million times.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

These Are Days

I hate to say goodbye to this summer. Although a Minnesota September can include a couple of warm, not completely un-summery weeks at its start, we all know the summer truly ends when the pool closes. Which, sadly, is three days from now.*

There were warning signs: most notably, the occasional red or brown oak leaf spied floating in the swimming pool (and Bee’s attempts to pluck those leaves out of the water and cram them, crumbling, into her mouth). And in the waning days of the outdoor swimming season, there are other signs: the exuberant kids in swim-goggles seem a smidge less well-behaved, as if possessed by some unholy instinct to raise as much hell as possible before school resumes. Plus, the lifeguards (who, as my father-in-law aptly noted, are mere children themselves!) seem, generally speaking, to give slightly less of a shit. In the midst of this maelstrom, Bee and I have soaked up the next-to-last rays of sunshine in our suits and sunhats. Many times, I’ve wrapped Bee in a big, soft beach towel and nursed her quietly in the sunshine. It has been so very sweet.

Now I’m contemplating, only slightly prematurely and neurotically, the cold weather that will eventually come. Last winter having sucked so unreservedly, I’m feeling kind of gloomy about the onset of cooler weather followed by REALLY, REALLY FREAKING COLD WEATHER. And snow – oh, God, I don’t even want to think about the snow. Worse yet: although Ben and I find repellent the idea of owning a second car, I’m starting to think it’s the only realistic way for me to avoid being trapped in the house with a one-year-old from November through April, because in our town many sidewalks, and especially the corners near intersections, are virtually impassable when there’s ice and snow on the ground – which is to say, at least five months a year. Some folks don't or can't shovel their walks, and the town's snowplows can't really help but leave giant ice-mounds at intersections. So walking anywhere with a baby in one’s arms is actually kind of dangerous, and I probably needn’t point out that use of a stroller in snowy, icy, unshovelled conditions is not viable. So… I guess we either stay inside all winter, or else we find a used Civic on Craigslist.


Speaking of reluctantly blowing a bunch of cash in order to survive the winter, I’ve decided that the time has come for me to invest in some serious fleece pants and microfiber underthings. You know, like these and these and, ooh, this right here. What’s funny is, the last time I invested in winter warmies of this kind was 2001 or so, and it was in preparation for an Outward Bound trip, if you can even believe that. Me! Mountaineering! Pathfinding! Rappelling down the sheer face of a cliff! Oh, Young Me, I tip my hat to you.

Anyway, those warm clothes, purchased for a crazy adventure in my plucky twenties, did right by me for over a decade. I still have them and I still wear them. Now, though, they’re covered in paint and ink from countless late nights in my studio, and I kind of think I shouldn’t wear them outside of the house anymore (bright side: studio pants!). So I’m trying to screw up the courage to shell out $150 on thermal underwear and such. I have to make provisions now that summer is nearly over, you see (audible sigh). And this time the reason I’m buying outback-grade clothing is not because I'm going to be participating in another wilderness expedition any time soon ever again, but simply because I live in a ridiculous climate. Who would have predicted this back when Ben and I were happily trotting around temperate Seattle wearing band t-shirts and slurping Americanos on Fifteenth? Shit, I didn’t even own a winter coat back then -- at least, not a real one. I definitely did have some sassy vintage things trimmed in faux-fur, but these were coats that would have pretty much led to my death if I'd tried to wear them in Minnesota in winter. And here I am now, a matronly Midwesterner looking for a good deal on fleece pants.

Next time, Dear Reader: more bitching about the climate, and further regrets about the closing of the swimming pool. You won’t want to miss it!
Okay, but, no, seriously, I might have some knitting photos next time.

* But you’ll surely be relieved to know that we have exactly enough swim diapers left to go swimming every day this week. High five!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Invincible summer

Bee and I go to the pool most afternoons, she in a baby-sized swimsuit dotted with cherries and I in a perhaps overly-modest tankini-swimskirt thing more suitable for an older gal -- but it's a step up from the maternity swimsuit I was safety-pinning to myself despite weighing less now than before I was pregnant. (Yeah, the sight of me in that maternity suit was just pitiful. Fortunately for everyone, Ben went down into the cellar boxes and dug out the tankini-swimskirt thing for me after an evening of listening to me complain about not being able to find my pre-pregnancy bathing suit. I'm very happy to have it back, but I do wonder why I bought such a reserved suit back in my roaring twenties, when I was so young and skinny! I should have been more ostentatious, clearly.)

So, anyway, yes, Bee and are doing this mommy-and-baby-at-the-pool thing all summer, and I kind of love it. She enjoys playing (and shrieking) in the water, and I like getting out of the house and talking to other humans. Actually, I kind of wish this summer could last forever.

In other summertime news, Bee's grandparents are visiting us this week, and the baby seems to really appreciate that we have bolstered the number of available personnel. There are more laps to sit in, more faces to watch, more adult-sized fingers to cut teeth upon (ow). There's also A DOG OMG A DOG!, by whom Bee is utterly transfixed. (She won't remember our dog, who went to pup heaven* when Bee was just two or three months old.) Anyway, our handsome little visitor is quite a good and pleasant little dog, but he once had his beard yanked (by Bee) during a previous visit to our home, and that harrowing experience seems to be frozen, vividly, in his mind. You really can't blame him, and the put-upon creature now steers utterly clear of Bee -- who, of course, would prefer that the pup come within beard-pulling distance. She gesticulates wildly around the dog, calls out a variation on his name ("Dooo!"), and observes longingly his nervous canine activities and one-eye-open sofa-naps.

What else, what else? Well, there's this nice thing: one recent hot afternoon, my wonderful mother-in-law and I went shopping, then stopped to drink iced coffees in a cafe, with Bee in tow, and I almost felt,
for the first time since Bee was born, like a normal person -- and not an inmate at an Iranian prison operated by a hungry, sleepless baby. The trip involved a car ride that went pretty well, and then, later that day, I took Bee swimming with a friend who has a little girl just a bit older than Bee. It was a glorious, happy, fun summer day, and I vowed to pack more of those into our remaining weeks of summer. I will! I shall! I must!

* After being bad-mouthed by me all over the world wide interwebz during my pregnancy. Rest in peace, pooch.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ne plus ultra

I've done some calculations with the available data, and I’m pretty sure Ben is the Cadillac, as they say, of husbands. Forgive my boast, but as far I can tell (and I’ve been watching him closely for close to a decade), this guy is the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s Fifth, the Hope diamond, and that ancient sequoia in California that they call the General. He asks for so little, gives a lot, works crazy hard, and shows his love for Bee and me in a thousand ways.

Lest you believe I’m purposely shorting you, Dear Reader, on the real details of what makes my fella so special: it suffices to say that the man is honorable, compassionate, and brilliant; in fact, he is the most honorable, compassionate, and brilliant person I know. Because Ben is who he is, I endeavor to be a better me. There! Now you know some things about my guy, and about me, too.

Anyhow, Ben's sensational enough that I’m occasionally inclined to wonder what keeps him around, to tell you the truth. It’s certainly not my financial prospects, my housekeeping, or my hearty good health. Because… it just isn’t. Oh, wait, it has to be my rainbowy disposition every morning! Except that I’m a colossal bitch before having my coffee. (Welcome to EVERY MORNING FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, sweet husband. I'm sorry!)

So, to summarize, I’m both messy and grumpy, I accidentally break stuff all the time, I lose things (including, on one infamous occasion, an expensive thing), I get sick a lot, I spend our money on yarn while he hesitates even to buy shoes for himself, and, if I may exaggerate slightly, I owe a million dollars on student loans. Also, I’m pretty lazy.

So, see what I mean? Don’t get me wrong, I’m told I have my splendid qualities, but, really, I can take me or leave me. But Ben – there’s a personage I can really get behind!

Bee, of course, loves both of us devotedly. But she, like her mom, appears to worship the ground Ben walks on. It is sweet, Dear Reader, to witness! She grins open-mouthedly and ear-to-ear when Ben gets home from work, gazes at him with pure delight, and chatters with her papa in a joyous language only the two of them comprehend. And have I mentioned that Bee has spoken her first word*? Although I've been joking (because I am hilarious) that she is actually referring to her favorite nihilistic art movement, it has become very, very clear that when Bee says “Dada,” she means Ben. And as one of the people who have taken care of this baby since she came into the world, I’m amazed and fascinated by the creature’s ability to produce an actual word, with, you know, an actual meaning that she understands and intends. Not baby babble (although she does lots of that, of course), but a word: a verbal and conceptual representation of a thing (and in this case, a person).** She labors so hard to get all the parts of that little pink mouth into the right position to create the sounds. To hear her produce the word “dada” as she looked into her dad’s eyes (once in particular, last week – the first time I was convinced of the true word-ness of her first word) was, Reader, one of my most breathtaking parenting experiences so far – a zenith.

* It's on the early side, but we're convinced. Doubt if you must.
** Speaking of language and semiotics, we have been using a few signs with Bee since around six months, but it's not clear whether she's picking up on them. She might recognize some of the signs, but hasn't used them herself, as far as we've noticed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Milestones

My Bee is experiencing her share of the typical baby benchmarks, and, as her mother, I naturally find these milestones compelling. (Basically, I’m having delusions of interestingness.) So, in honor of the baby's nearly nine months of life, I thought I’d catalog a few of her, and our, recent triumphs.

Bee eats puréed sweet potatoes, acorn squash, applesauce, cucumbers, pears, coconut milk (wait, is that normal?), bananas, carrots, peaches, fava beans, and other “solid” foods. (I may have also given her some maple syrup, causing her to freak out until I gave her more maple syrup.) She makes all kinds of cool sounds, including “da da da da da,” which may or may not signify. She’s been to the swimming pool, where she kicked and splashed maniacally. Bee can roll* anywhere she wants to go. And my dexterous girl effortlessly transfers stuff from hand to hand and can pick up, using a tiny thumb and index finger, the most miniscule bit of bitty bittiness, which means I really need to be vacuuming more.

One of the more pathetic milestones, though, is Bee’s recent semi-habitual practice of sleeping for a full hour without waking up. No, not sleeping through the night – sleeping for sixty minutes. Our kid is almost nine months old and when she sleeps for a full hour (not in our laps! zomg!), Ben and I are in the living room dancing a freaking jig. (A very quiet jig.) So, nowadays he and I can generally count on a single hour (another way of looking at it: a whole hour!) per evening of sitting on the couch, eating ice cream/watching a DVD**/conversing like grown-ups. Compared to every previous day of the last eight months, it’s pretty much glorious.

This recent innovation on Bee’s part, insufficient though it may be, is a big deal for us. It came about after we put into action some advice from this book, an anti-cry-it-out manual that will forever have a place of honor and affection in my heart.*** And while sixty minutes of undisturbed sleep might not be the most stunning milestone you’ve ever heard of, Ben and I try hard to stay positive (and caffeinated). Yes, I’ve wailed the words “I can’t go on like this!” almost every day since last fall, and Ben and I would prefer (strongly prefer!) to see more radical improvements to the whole family’s sleep schedule, but what can I say? At present the oracle has not spoken.

* That’s right, instead of crawling, she just rolls everywhere. It’s not the most efficient mode of transport, but it’s original. As for crawling, Bee seems to detest her own grueling attempts, and bawls her way through each and every effort. For her, crawling involves literal kicking and screaming.
** Reader, Ben and I now have the option of watching the same DVD at the same time, together, snuggled on the couch, instead of resignedly taking turns with everything Netflix sends us. (Yes, we’re still enjoying the DVD option. I know, lame. It will be yet another milestone in this family when he and I finally commit to the streaming-only option. We came of age in the roaring ‘nineties, you know; we think DVDs are shiny and cool.)
*** It’s the only baby sleep book that I haven’t wanted to cut apart with kitchen scissors. Elizabeth Pantley ponies up options other than “put her in the crib and let her cry” or “live with it.” Yays!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The expanding universe

After a long Minnesota winter, our rivers have begun to run again, and the ice atop our ten thousand frozen lakes has long since fractured and softened and vanished. The sun even glows warmly most days, although we’ve had, I’m afraid, a rainy June, including a number of truly impressive Midwestern thunderstorms (I missed those something awful when I lived in Seattle, an otherwise perfect city where all you get is a bit of sad drizzle). But we’ve had enough warm, dry, glowy days to buoy our spirits, justify flip-flops, and coax out the zucchini plants. So, mustn't grumble!

Bee is getting bigger and merrier by the week. As spring evolves, at long last, into summer, and our number of daylight hours per twenty-four climbs upwards of thirteen (yes, we definitely keep count), our little enthusiast welcomes her expanding world with evident glee. Our surroundings are new and improved! Now with sunshine! And HEYIWANTTHATTHINGYOUHAVEINYOURHAND,
CANIPUTITINMYMOUTH?

Now that she knows there’s more to this plane of existence than our happy little house, Bee loves to be outside, and I sure as hell can’t blame her; born to a prairie family at the head end of a long, bitter winter, my little girl didn’t get out much for the first half of her life. So now, when she and I go out on walks, or to run little errands, she gets to, you know, see new stuff. There’s more to this world, she begins to realize, than mommy and daddy and the turtle quilt and NPR and her wooden abacus and this thing. There’s so much more. The barista’s auburn beard and a bag of red lentils hold Bee in the same state of fascination as birds on branches and teenagers on ten-speeds; dogs and toddlers and mail trucks are amazing, as is the cool, breezy, and verdant arboretum, rambles through which (with aid from the Björn, of course) keep our girl fairly spellbound.

My world grows vaster, too. Parenting a newborn (which is no longer what we’re doing, thank Jesus!) is utterly absorbing and exhausting, requiring a both a crash course and a sort of laser-like focus on one’s subject matter: for the first several months, we exclusively changed diapers, fed, scrubbed, cuddled, and tried to induce sleep (and also tried to get Bee to stop constantly flipping out). Now that our girl is a little bigger, older, and more able to interact with us and others, Ben and I have expanded, joyously, the scope of our activities and our attention. I mean, everything we do is Bee-oriented, of course, absolutely, but we can do more with her now – take her more places and interact with her in more apparent (and often more fun) ways. She entertains us, and we [try to] entertain her. As she grows, so grow our many ways of teaching her, communicating with her, and enjoying her company. Having a slightly older baby is “absorbing and exhausting” too, but at least there’s a little more variety.

And it would take a year’s worth of overwrought blog posts to even scratch the surface, dear Reader, of the subject of my always-broadening understanding of myself as a mother. For now I’ll only admit that which will surprise no parent: namely, that the PURE CHAOS of parenting a baby casts my own foibles and strengths in an entirely new light – sometimes flattering, and sometimes not. Of course, I’ve no notion of using my expanding awareness of Self to improve my character in any fashion; with my kid’s outrageous sleep habits, there’s not enough coffee on the continent to prepare me for that kind of reflection-based self-improvement. Sorry, self.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mon petit chou

Straightaway, let me reveal that my daughter has a Cabbage Patch Kid name.

This is a subject I’d been looking forward to exploring when I foisted last week’s post on you (remember, the rigorous and intellectually stimulating epistle on the subject of library storytime for babies?), but I ran out of time, and my tale was already getting longish. So today my theme will receive its due attention.

The subject, dear Reader, is names.

Specifically, baby names. A certain genre of name, you know, is prevalent among Bee’s immediate peers. Usually old-fashioned, often elegant or literary, and certainly never plain, these sweet, quirky names are generally not as far afield as, say, the unfathomable Gertrude, but are significantly off-center of Emma. I’m talking about, for example, Astrid and Finnegan. And Hattie, and Eleanor, and Pearl. Not everyone’s cup of tea, maybe, but, what can I say, I find these names adorable. Ben and I refer to them as Cabbage Patch Kid* names, and have noticed that the parents of babies of Bee’s age and socio-economic-cultural group tend to embrace them.

In fact, it was at library storytime, surrounded by tiny Mabels and Hazels and Archies, that the prevalence of these pretty, heirloom-y names first became clear to me; all those Astrids and Henrys and Violets and Stellas make you feel like you’re perusing 1933 census data. And I appreciate and approve of these antique names, having given my own daughter an indisputable Cabbage Patch Kid name that shall not be divulged herein. (I know, believe it or not, her legal name is not actually Bumblebee Carrot-flower, as I may have implied elsewhere in the archives.)

Ben and I chose Bee’s name because it’s pretty, it’s distinctive but not (in our opinion) weird, it’s thousands of years old (and ancient is even cooler than old-fashioned!), and it’s rife with potential nicknames in case our girl wants to shorten it. And I’ll say right now that reactions to Bee’s name tend to range from genuine delight, to confused surprise, to resigned silence. Sometimes strangers even chuckle, although I’m never sure what’s so funny. I can’t imagine what kind of reactions the brave, long-suffering parents of Henriettas and Ursulas encounter each day.

What do you think, dear Readers? Did you (or shall you) give your little one a Cabbage Patch Kid name?

* Xavier Roberts famously gathered the names for his CPK dolls from a 1930s book of baby names, and I hereby dedicate this footnote to Cabbage Patch Kids I have known: Bronwyn Janet, Jocelyn Ardra, and Clarissa Edina.
.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Everyone loves a good storytime.

Home alone all day with Bee, I’m so often dogged by simultaneous boredom and exhaustion that a mother-daughter trot over to the library starts to seem like as good a way to occupy ourselves as anything else, including “relaxing” at home. (I can’t explain it to non-parents, but, at a certain point, it’s just as easy to pack a diaper bag and hit the bricks as it is to stay home. Or, more accurately, it’s entirely as exhausting to stay home as it is to just go somewhere.) And library storytime occurs during what would normally be Bee’s mid-morning nap, but for the sake of talking to other grown-ups exposing Bee to educational activity, I gladly take on the problems presented by a) a cranky baby and b) having to get a six-month-old to a particular destination at a particular time.

A line of strollers parked outside the library* is the first sign that it’s time for Kathy, the children’s librarian, to do her thing. Babies and mommies (and a couple of daddies) show up for storytime, almost invariably late and flustered. Haggard parents greet one another like weary travelers who have finally reached a safehouse. Somehow, it is reassuring to be around other unimaginably tired people.

So: we all sit in a circle on the carpet, kids in our laps, and sing a bunch of cute, dippy songs, some of which involve our kids’ names (thrillingly, to the kids old enough to realize they have names). Librarian Kathy does her best to lead us in some children’s songs she downloaded off the internet, and then reads us some stories, usually those crappy Sandra Boynton board books with all the animals? And it is good, and the babies and kids love it.

When Kathy runs out of stories and songs, the morning degenerates into the across-the-board bedlam and lawlessness that is “toy time.” That’s when the library's toy collection is produced and it becomes crystal clear that Librarian Kathy's lack of showmanship during the singalong portion of the morning is more than compensated for by her no-nonsense stoicism during toy time. The library’s impressive assortment of playthings includes a treasury of wooden puzzles, several xylophones, a tea set, some propaganda from the Princess Industrial Complex, a range of plush toys I wouldn’t let my baby touch with a pair of 16-inch barbeque tongs, a million toy telephones, and a truly respectable selection of things designed to be banged on other things. The kids love these fabulously unfamiliar toys, and to tell you the truth, it’s pretty sweet.

Bee generally gravitates toward a certain wooden abacus. As she slides wooden beads about with laser-like precision, I watch toddlers cheerfully rip toys out of one another’s arms, trip gamely over boxes of blocks, and blithely discuss the important issues of the day, such as the color of one another’s socks (“pink!”). Bee is currently among the youngest attendants each week, and every now and then I’ll notice that she’s searching my face for clues about where the hell we are, who these high-spirited bigger babies might be, and why on earth it is so very noisy. Overall, she seems to enjoy it. My girl wears this thunderstruck, wide-eyed expression during toy time, and I remember that she and I come from what several of our houseguests have described as a “very quiet” household, and that Bee is probably wondering why she hears the sound of mayhem rather than the gentle murmur of NPR.

It’s a weekly event filled with irrepressible excitement. There’s an air of general gladness: even the tired moms and dads are usually in great moods. I know I always am, because I’m out of the house and no one is judging my badly combed hair, or policing my “outfit” (and by “outfit” I mean yoga pants and hoodie). It’s nice to be among my people, that’s all, and fun to see my Bee having fun.

And, you know, despite the exhilarated maelstrom, I fairly marvel at how infrequently all hell actually breaks loose. A kid or two will cry or whatever, but it’s not a huge deal, and, incredibly, I’ve never witnessed a Walk of Shame there so far. The boisterous kids and the tired parents all just kind of go with the flow, and everyone survives the meltdowns amicably enough. And the library staff has had the good sense to place us in a sort of annexed area of the building, slightly removed from the library proper and its patrons’ perfectly reasonable expectations of quietness, uncrazy behavior, and deference to property.

By the end of our hour, Bee has gotten her fill of random stimuli and the abacus, and I’ve had the chance, if I’m lucky, to chat with a couple of other parents. Bee is usually tired and sorely missing that skipped nap, so we head out. And as I retrieve our stroller from its spot out front, I say a quiet prayer that neither rain nor sudden influenza nor miscellaneous appointment will deter us from returning next week. Because, I admit it: I love storytime.

* We live in a quaint small town, so parents just park their strollers outside the library and no one steals them. Not even the sweet-ass jogging strollers. Magical!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The really great outdoors

After dashing off last week's missive on the subject of my modified reading habits, I came across this insightful, finely written book review that addresses the question of why we read literature. (Spoiler alert, the answer is an incisive, if rhetorical, second question: why live?)

Besides read, I do a couple of other things when I’m pinned to the rocking chair all day. My second diversion, after novel-reading, involves furtively probing the Internet -- on my precariously positioned laptop -- for a) Facebook activity, b) answers to my family’s embarrassing medical questions (thanks, Dr. Internet!), c) mommy blogs, and d) geographically convenient Cragislist bargains. And furthermore, e) whatever strikes my fancy at 2:30 in the morning with a sleeping baby in my lap. But why "furtively"? Well, you know… somehow, checking my Gmail, looking at patterns on Ravelry,* and blogging just don’t seem like things a mother cradling her peacefully dozing baby should really be fiddling with in the wee small hours. I know, that’s ridiculous; mothers need and want to do stuff other than/while breastfeeding their babies. I mean, obviously. But I guess I feel a bit delinquent because I always have the unshakable impression that it’s supposed to be totally Mary Cassatt-y up in here -- nothing but sweet, quiet, peaceful moments of gazing at my little one’s cherubic sleeping face,** surrounded by beautiful fabrics inspired by nineteenth-century Japanese pattern design. Instead, I’m all trolling eBay for Halloween costumes. 

Away from the rocking chair, Bee and I have been spending considerably more time outside lately -- a colossal improvement over the gloomy, winter-long situation of affairs to which we have been accustomed here in the frozen north. Where we live, you know, winter really does freeze your soul, just a bit. But the snow has mostly melted and the grasses and flowers of Minnesota are beginning to wake up. Temperatures have risen enough that one can take an infant outdoors without imperiling its life! If that celebratory statement doesn’t deserve an exclamation point, I don’t know what does! So, yes, Bee and I have been tramping around town on little errands, taking long-ish walks on the campus of a certain liberal arts college, and even embarking on High Adventure at the public library’s storytime for babies. (It involves more singing, crying, and curbed pandemonium than actual stories, but it’s fun. Come to think of it, storytime deserves a post all to itself, and a post all to itself it shall have, Dear Reader.)

So, to sum up: we go outside now. Thanks to the Björn, in fact, the baby and I have walked our town's sidewalks so doggedly that Bee could probably find her way home on her own at this point. But, I promise, I am still reading with a fierceness and vigor, because even in springtime there are books, and hours in the rocking chair, and middle-of-the-night awakeness. The difficult things, like NEVER SLEEPING, become a little easier in April. They just do! But Ben and I are still tired. The emerging tulips and the bunnies and the chirping birds haven't totally moderated our exhaustion. Not yet. Maybe in May.

* If you don’t know what Ravelry is, and you’re a knitter, you should probably get your ass over there. Me, I’ve basically accepted Ravelry as my personal lord and savior.
** Not sarcasm. Bee does actually have what we consider an unmistakably cherubic face, all roses and crème fraiche. You could just kiss it forever! Mwah mwah mwah mwah mwah!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Hard books and easy

One could accuse me of acts of snootery when it comes to the kinds of books I prefer to read -- or have liked to read in the past. You see, dears, ever since Bee was born I’ve had to stick with texts of the not-terribly-taxing variety. Why? Well, I do have plenty of time to read books, because Bee only sleeps when she’s being held by Ben or me -- so I spend hours at a time, at all hours of the day and night, camped out with a baby in my lap and a novel in my hand. HOWEVER, I’m also extremely sleep-deprived, so I find myself turning my attention to a) story-driven works, b) writing that’s fairly easily digested, and c) a variety of undemanding stuff that can be comprehended on four hours of sleep. Oh, and the books should be d) ones that are lightweight in more than one sense, because I need to be able to support the book in a single hand while cradling Bee with the other arm. At three in the morning, I can’t handle the intellectual rigors of Bleak House or, Dear Reader, the physical poundage of it.

So, less Clarissa and more Rilla. An absence of Brontë, but a little bit of Finney. And I must give a weary nay to historical fiction -- for now -- and a hearty yea to time-travel love stories (the line between the two being somewhat blurrier than you might expect, by the way). Anyway, lately I’ve had no lack of time to gulp down some Barbara Kingsolver and finish up one of my favorite things in this world, the Anne of Green Gables series (who knew there were eight books?! I always thought there were only six!). Wonderful, leisurely volumes, I assure you. And this week, I’m sailing through a painless sequel to The Bean Trees and eyeing a library copy of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute – because I daresay I can handle short stories, even postmodern ones, as long as they are in fact short, and not too toilsome. After that I’m likely to re-read some of my YA fiction faves, like this and this. (Man. You know, I really should just dig out my old copies of the Baby-Sitters Club series and have done with it.)

Of course, I miss capital-L literature. There are so many reasons read, and to love, Difficult Books, and the rewards of that reading, and of that loving, are not always to be found in easy books. I mean, I’m sorry, they just aren’t. That’s why people labor (but it’s a joyous labor!) through Tolstoy, you know? Your reward is comfort, and a timeless comradery, and encouragement for holding on in this life as your betters before you have held on. (I also tend to think that the best Difficult Books are instructive on the general subject of how to conduct oneself in this world. My own comportment, inadequate though it continues to be, owes a debt to Charlotte Brontë and Samuel Richardson that I feel sure I can never repay.) And then there’s the beauty of brilliant prose, often a reward unto itself. There are all of those things, plus the satisfaction of knowing you’re so much smarter than everyone else. (Joking! Totally joking!)

But when you’re tired, you’re tired; maybe this is what people mean when they talk about Mommy Brain. The phenomenon, if there is one, is always made out to be some sort of physiological occurrence, as if producing an heir actually melts a woman’s cerebrum. You’ll never do physics again. I mean, of all the cockamamie ideas! If Mommy Brain is anything at all, in my view, it’s just a vastly reduced quantity and quality of time and energy. You’ve got less time to read novels (or do freelance work, or translate ancient Hebrew texts, or paint, or revise your novella, or study for the bar exam, or INSERT YOUR INTELLECTUAL PURSUIT HERE). Plus, you’re fatigued. And the time you do have for these occupations is total crap compromised. As my friend Kara phrased it, “Doing any mentally immersive work with a baby in the house is a fantasy.”

Perhaps things do get better, as everyone swears they do (and as a few things, in our first several months as parents, already have), and I’ll be able to resume reading hard books at some point -- probably around the same time that I start combing my hair again. I don’t know. But I hold literature as one of life’s great comforts and pleasures,* so I sure as hell hope so. For now, though, I’m embracing easy books. Easy books are better, as I do not need to tell you, than no books at all.

* And that is why being an English major pays for itself hundredfold over the course of a lifetime. Comfort and pleasure, I tell you! Comfort and pleasure!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Did I say that?

I've never been the type to be afraid of tempting fate. I just don't think, for example, that commenting on the longevity of your house's water heater will bring about a flooded basement, or that celebrating an uninterrupted bout of pleasant weather (whatever that is...) can mystically conjure up snow. Call me a rationalist, but I just don't think it works that way.

But every now and then, I wonder.

The other day, I gratefully and happily reveled in Bee's improved health, and made merry re: our recent handful of advances toward someday having a normal life again (you know, with sleep and stuff). I wrote about how the tide had (maybe, possibly, we'll see) turned, because our girl seemed so much happier and healthier lately. In my excitement, I may even have, um, announced that spring was on its way... to Minnesota... in mid-March... Because that ever happens. (I blame my loopiness on the fact that I'm very tired, and constantly hungry.) I was enjoying my glee! Hope is a knave, and so am I!

The very next day after this gale of optimism and revelry, my poor Bee started puking. It was her first stomach bug, so naturally I was all, OH MY GOD MAH BAYBEE, and PARENTING, UR DOING IT WRONG!! And Bee clearly felt like crap and there was very little to be done about it. Now, since I'm the only parent in the history of humankind to have a baby with a stomach bug, the world was coming to a fiery end. At least, that's what it felt like, just the tiniest bit.

I know, I am really going to have to buck up, or else this parenting racket is going to mop the floor with me.

A few days later, our sweet Bee was feeling better and Ben and I began to feel that we might possibly be able to resume our normal daily routine (it's a shitty routine, but, hey, it's ours). Simultaneously, I came to the point in my elimination diet (the one whose purpose is to sleuth out Bee's food allergy, because I breastfeed her) where it was time to start reintroducing foods into my pathetic diet* to see what would happen. Well, the bad news is that Bee had a negative reaction to the very first thing I reintroduced. The good news is that we're pretty sure we've identified her allergy! [Insert hymn of praise.] And if I can think up a way to make it not brutally boring, I'll tell you more about that, Dear Reader, another day.

In other news, my BFF, Ari, is coming to visit next week! Although I'll be sure to show her quite a dull time compared to our youthful shenanigans of yesteryear, it will be a true treat to have her for a visit.


* For those players marking their bingo cards: corn, tomatoes, dairy, eggs, garlic, chocolate, iodized salt, meat, nuts, and wheat are currently out. Yes, for the time being, I'm one of those freaks who can't eat anything. BUT, on the bright side, if you want to lose all of your pregnancy weight and then some, I suggest (not really!) becoming one of those freaks who can't eat anything.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"No winter lasts forever;
no spring skips its turn."

Apparently the cogent and methodical approach to problem-solving that I like to call Complaining About Stuff on My Blog continues to be fail-proof, because, Dear Reader, things are getting better: Bee almost never cries inconsolably anymore, and we get to see her giant, toothless smile all day long, and, thanks to the BabyBjörn, we can accommodate her need for near-constant closeness without getting blood clots in our forearms.

And spring is coming to Minnesota, thankyouandAMEN. Temperatures in the 20s and 30s have got me feeling pretty tropical after our long, dark winter, and Bee and I have been out tromping around town almost every day lately. We're still bundled to high heaven, and she's stuffed into the Björn, bear-eared snowsuit and all, but it feels good. She's fascinated by just about everything we encounter outdoors and while checking out library books and on visits to the grocery store. The other day, Bee chattered hilariously the entire time as we walked from home to the local pharmacy, evidently having the time of her life, then fell into an amazed silence when encountered with the array of interesting objects lining the shelved walls of the pharmacy. (Jars! Bottles! Homigod, boxes!)

Bee is happy and effusive these days, and Ben and I are as thrilled as two people can possibly be on four and a half hours of sleep per night. We still have our little troubles, of course -- there's still the mysterious and enchanting food allergy to puzzle out, and the small matter of Bee's outright refusal to sleep anywhere but in our arms. (The latter is really getting old, I am not going to lie. An acquaintance recently mentioned, offhandedly, that her six-day-old baby was sound asleep in the next room, and it occurred to me that I can practically count on my fingers the number of times our 4-month-old has been "asleep in the next room.")

Nonetheless, things are looking up. For the first four months of Bee's blessed little life, people would urge me to enjoy the baby's first year, because it all goes by so quickly, and I would think, "PROMISE?" Because every hour was a struggle, and every day seemed full of more shrieking than the day before, and I didn't get any better at keeping Bee from sobbing, because, you know, that's the nature of inconsolable crying. And I would feel guilty for not enjoying every moment. I loved her like mad every moment, but enjoyment was reserved for rare minutes of calm nursing and peaceful lap-napping. No, enjoyment was not often an option -- more of an occasional treat, like fritters, or some really nice yarn.* Plus, it's been kind of a heartless winter here, and I NEVER GOT TO GO OUTSIDE!

The tide began to turn a couple of weeks ago. Right around the time that the winter started to seem slightly less HORRIBLE AND NEVER-ENDING, Bee's truly awe-striking meltdowns and wail-fests began occurring far less often, and her reflux seemed to just about disappear as she started being able to hold up her head. So, more and more of our girl's mirthful personality has emerged, and now I find myself spending incredibly joy-filled days with Bee. (High five!) I don't mean that every second is daisies and dewdrops, necessarily, but what a difference it makes to see her so frequently happy, and to know I can successfully reassure her now when she does cry, as babies will and shall. I don't mind telling you that it's so much nicer than just being crap-out-of-luck with a SO VERY SAD baby who sobs and screeches comfortlessly for several hours per diem. (Readers, that desolate wailing broke my heart every day for four months, and I am so very happy to see it, and whatever was causing my Bee such discomfort and unhappiness, disappear. Oh, and the winter. I'm happy to see that disappear, too.)

Here's to happy changes, and to a season of fewer meltdowns, and more melt.

* What? You say you don't reward yourself with a fourteen-dollar skein of Japanese wool after doing something awesome? À chacun son goût, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

So begins the peaceful reign of King Björn.

Ben and I have been looking forward with a kind of desperate optimism to the day when Bee could hold up her wobbly little head and be toted around in one of those frontpack carriers loved by yuppie parents like us. Myself, I've kind of been fantasizing about carrying a baby around in a BabyBjörn since 2002 or so, when I met Ben and straightaway made up my mind that he and I would be getting married and having babies at his earliest convenience. But back then, I imagined trotting around Fifteenth in Capitol Hill with our happy hipster baby, maybe getting a muffin at Victrola on the way to doing whatever hipster parents do in Seattle (you can tell I'd really thought through the logistics of that fantasy). Fast-forward nine years, and Ben and I now live in a part of the country where it's too nipple-freezingly cold to take an infant outside in a Björn most of the time, and we're too old to be hipsters (or, for that matter, yuppies), and, anyhow, our little girl is a strong-willed, stately little creature who resolved, early on, that she could not possibly abide being carried around in a glorified backpack.
So, faced with a baby who hated the BabyBjörn, Ben and I examined the facts in front of us, drank a bunch of coffee, and ruled that the BabyBjörn would be set aside until such a time that Bee could hold her head up dependably, at which point she might, Jesus willing, be interested in riding front-facing (as opposed to the rejected inward-facing position for newborns) in the Björn. We had no intention of forcing it, but we'd noticed that she does like to get the lay of the land while being carried in our arms a million hours a day, so Ben and I figured this position -- available only to big girls who can hold their heads up -- would be perfect for letting Bee survey her world.
Well, here's the paragraph where you totally know I'm going to reveal how VERY WRONG we were, as always, and then make some peppy jokes about parenthood beating the living crapola out of Ben and me. Except, guess what! Guessguessguessguessguess! We* were actually right for once: Bee utterly loves being carried around in the Björn now, and will happily let us roam about with her strapped to our frontsides all freaking day! For longer than we generally want to be roaming about with her strapped to our frontsides!  O miracle! The earth grew glad! AND, we are told by friends, the pediatrician, and Dr. Internet that colicky babies often start feeling a lot better around the time when they can hold their heads up (and better still once they can sit up), because lying flat exacerbates their reflux. So maaaaybe that will happen and our girl will stop, you know, screaming all the time? Like I said, a desperate optimism.
In other news, I’m going to hold the record for number of times a simple pullover sweater (Ravelry link) gets frogged. Maybe I need to switch to a new hobby, something where carelessness is a virtue. Any ideas?
* Actually, Ben was right. It was his theory. The ones that end up being correct are pretty much always his.