24 December 2013

Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve already, which feels strange. This time last year, I was feeling nauseous and we'd only told a select handful of people that I was pregnant because it was still quite early on. It was actually even earlier than we thought it was at the time--we thought I was around 8 or 9 weeks along when we found out the week before Christmas, and it turns out I was closer to 4 or 5. My body's first response was, "Hey, you're pregnant. Go throw up."

I'm mostly feeling far better this year than I did last year, though my digestive system is a touch moody after all that throwing up and being progressively more squished by a baby over nine months. Too much sugar and I get nauseous, and if I skip a meal or eat later than usual, my stomach launches a vociferous protest. J. and I are getting more sleep right now, in part because we're visiting my family so E. has two grandparents and three uncles who are willing to entertain her, and in part because she's suddenly started sleeping better at night. I don't know how long this will last, but I'm taking advantage while it does.

We've done the big get-together with many people, both family and friends (all on one day), so most of our visit is relaxing, hanging out, and doing stuff around Portland. We spent a while wandering around Saturday Market yesterday, admiring all the pretty breakable things that we should not buy right now. We're doing Powell's on Friday, and I think I'm making the pilgrimage to Mill End and Pendleton Woollen Mills on Saturday. Also on the list is a trip to my favourite tea shop in the world, the Tao of Tea, for a date and to stock up on pu'er, followed by The Hobbit at the Baghdad Theater (pizza, beer, and a movie with Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch? Sounds like a good day to me).

Today's been pleasantly quiet. We're off to the Christmas Eve service in a couple hours, and dinner's after that. Then I think my mum and I may finish watching David Tennant's Hamlet (we left off during a conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern last night after E. fell asleep) while J. plays board games with my brothers and my dad goes to bed early.

I'm knitting a bit here and there. I have my first Moebius cowl on the needles, and it's just a ribbed pattern, so it's very easy. And fast, since it's worsted weight on 6 mm needles. I just have a few more inches to go before I start the edging. I think I want to make another one in stockinette and then do a garter stitch lace edging. I'll have to play around with that. It might make a good pattern to stick up on Ravelry.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Enjoy the snow, rain, fog, sunshine...whatever it's like where you are.

18 December 2013

Frozen: some thoughts

note A: This is a re-write of sorts. I wanted to revise my thoughts a bit.
 
note B: this post will contain spoilers for the movie Frozen. Just a warning!

J., E., and I recently went to see Disney's new movie, Frozen. E. stared at the previews, fell asleep during the opening sequence, woke up for a feed in the middle (one of those moments when I like breastfeeding), then dozed off again and woke up during the credits. J. and I loved it, but as with any movie, we had a few quibbles with it.

I didn't know much about the film before we went; I'd seen the YouTube video of "Let It Go" because, well, Idina Menzel singing. That was it. I loved the sense of freedom the song invokes.


It's a great song. But I had a couple issues with it. The problems that arose for me were mostly minor, but I think that they contribute to the overall effect of the song and the story. Elsa's costume transforms part-way through the song into a spangled ice-themed outfit. I don't have a problem with that. My problem was that she went from a beautiful character to a sexy character. Her make-up was more enhanced; there was a slit in her skirt (which was jarring because the overall aesthetic for the film doesn't support that style very well; honestly that's probably the thing that irritates me most. They could have left out the slit to maintain consistency with the rest of the costumes, and she still would have looked fabulous and sexy); and her "confident" walk involved a hip sway. Sexiness isn't a bad thing, but when Elsa takes ownership of herself and her power, she becomes sexualized in appearance. I doubt that Disney was trying to imply that power in women must be mitigated by sexualization, but the implication is there.

Elsa is an adult character, and her transformation occurs when she is alone, so her choice to appear sexy isn't necessarily problematic: she is choosing how she wants to look, and it is very obviously about her desire to express herself rather than about her catering to the male gaze. But my concern is about what young girls watching the movie are going to take away from it--that it's about being sexy, rather than about being yourself. I like feeling attractive and I like trying to choose flattering clothes, but these days most of that is about how I feel when I look good and less about how other people respond to my clothing choices. Will young women absorb the message that expressing themselves must be about whether or not they are sexy? I'm probably overthinking it.

There are other points of contention. When the younger sister, Princess Anna, falls for a man and wants to marry him as soon as she's met him, this is met with opposition, as it should be. (Instead, she ends up with a guy that she falls for 1-2 days after meeting him). Anna is a great character, but the trope of princesses getting to fall in love with handsome men continues. The queen, on the other hand, Elsa, is permitted to stay single--no partner appears on the horizon for her (does this imply that power requires singleness in order to maintain control, or that Elsa's a strong character and can rule on her own without any male interference?).

However, on the whole, Frozen handles gender roles much better than many Disney films. Like Brave, Frozen is primarily about familial love and relationships. When Anna's heart requires "an act of true love" to be thawed, her saving her sister's life at risk to her own is what cures her, not a true love's kiss. I was thrilled with that turn of events. The denouement is about how the two sisters' reconciliation teaches Elsa control over her magic, thus saving the kingdom. And though Anna does end up with a cute guy, he's not a prince, and they don't get married at the end.

Having a daughter has suddenly made me far more aware of what books and movies teach; I'll let E. watch Frozen when she can understand it, but, like with any movie, I'll want to talk with her about it, see what she understands from the story. I'm definitely happier with the idea of her watching this movie than with her watching, oh, say, Snow White."Someday my prince will come?" To begin with, that's not what life's about, and contrary to what fairy tales say, there is a serious shortage of princes out there.

Other scattered thoughts about the movie:

The script was good--there were great lines, good jokes, well-written songs. The return to the more musical Disney movie has made me pretty happy. I love musicals with all the passion of a former theatre junkie (oh high school drama classes...how I don't miss thee, but I do miss thy music).

The snowman, Olaf, was a tad extraneous--the main characters were carrying the humour pretty well on their own, and then Olaf showed up to steal the spotlight. But he was cute. It's hard to dislike a character who introduces himself by saying, "I'm Olaf, and I like warm hugs!"

The textile artist in me wants to get out the inkle loom and play around with a few ribbons inspired by the trims in the film, but I'm crap at pick-up patterns right now and need more practice with set patterns before I try to make my own.

A linguist's quibble: The writing system they show in the movie is a futhark, one of the runic alphabets in use a good thousand years before the styles of the characters' clothing. Futharks are beautiful, and I suppose they wanted to go "timeless" for the era, but early-to-mid 19th century clothing (not a costumer so that's just a rough guess) plus the futhark was kind of funny, due to the chronological inconsistency.

many things

We're in the last few days before we pick up and head out to visit my parents for Christmas. It's been years since we spent Christmas at their home (years since we've been down to visit at all, actually), and we're very much looking forward to it. We'll be surrounded by people who will be delighted to take a turn entertaining E. so J. and I can get so much needed sleep.

I feel like my brain isn't working so well. E. and I arrived home from the store today, delighted to have finished the Christmas shopping. While I was wrapping presents this evening, I suddenly remembered two gifts I'd forgotten. One was for my grandmother.

J. got his Christmas present, a new computer, yesterday, and is still tinkering with it to get it working. It's not behaving properly and he may need to run back to the store one of these evenings before we take off.

My Christmas present is a trip to the bookstore and fabric store in my parents' town. I'm pretty excited about that. I've been working on sewing in small increments here and there. E.'s Christmas dress is almost done. If it ends up looking wretched once it's all together, we won't bring it, but at least the bodice fits right now. She's been growing by leaps and bounds. She's grown an inch and a half in the last few weeks, so suddenly pants that were far too long actually fit. She's still in the 0-3 months clothing (at 4 months old), but she's out of the newborn-sized clothing, for the most part. I got all teary-eyed when we put the newborn-sized diapers away on Sunday.

I've also been making her a Christmas stocking. I got the pattern here. I've skipped the applique in favour of embroidering her name on it. I've wanted to get better at embroidery, so I tackled stem stitch, split stitch, and French knots. Being geeks, we named our daughter after one of Tolkien's minor characters, so the cuff has her name in Sindarin embroidered on it with stem stitch and French knots, and the stocking leg has her name in English using split stitch. I'll stick up a picture once we have a good quality one.

In the meantime, E.'s finally dozed off. Time to see if she'll let me set her down in the crib so I, too, may sleep.

15 December 2013

beautiful writing

What makes something beautiful? Is there a universal standard, a formula whereby something is or is not beautiful? Would a strong philosophy of aesthetics be able to be broad enough to include the vagaries of taste and yet narrow enough to make a statement on what is aesthetically good?

Beauty is so often a case for opinion that I fear that this topic is doomed to drive me insane. Additionally, the idea of good vs. bad (or perhaps better vs. worse) is a hard one to manage in a post-modern philosophy (which, of course, makes it all the more of a challenge). A while ago, in a book on semiotics, the author (Floyd Merrell, Sensing Corporeally, 2003) mentioned in passing that there's a lack of semiotic literature handling aesthetics (he's written a number of books that would probably address this topic in more detail than he did in that one, but I don't currently have access to them so I can't check). I immediately became curious. Semiotics fascinates me, and the idea of combining that with aesthetics just sounded like fun. Complicated, but fun. I'm still in the extremely early stages, though, so I've no idea where I'll end up.

If I'm working with my own sense of aesthetics as a guide, I'll find that when it comes to writing, I'm just a novice. I am not yet a creator of beautiful writing, based on my own standards. There is a difference between good writing and beautiful writing. By my own definition, I am a good writer (when I am not lazy), but beautiful writing is a separate plane. I can communicate effectively, with reasonable concision, and am even capable of decent metaphorical expression, but I've yet to get to that higher standard.

When I read books where the author says something well, in such a fashion that I am riveted to the page, and cannot stop thinking over what I have read, I think of that as beautiful writing. I've encountered beautiful writing in fiction (both for children and adults), in non-fiction, and even in fan fiction (yes, I read fan fiction, because I am a geek and a storyteller, and the combination of the two takes me to interesting places). I've found it in Augustine's Confessions ("Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new..."), in Northrop Frye's work, in the works of Charles Sanders Peirce, and in Rosemary Wells' Bunny Planet trilogy. There is an ineffable quality to the writing, the ideas, and the stories in these works which captivates me and fires my imagination.

And I wish I could become a writer of that caliber. Oh, I wish. So I write. I practice, and I hope. Perhaps someday, I will make beautiful writing.

05 December 2013

Breastfeeding and Feelings

I have a love-hate relationship with breastfeeding. That's no secret. It still surprises me sometimes, how difficult I've found it, in so many little ways. And yet there are the moments when I love it, love being able to do this.

We're firmly set in the combo-feeding camp now. E.'s been good with all three of the formulas we've tried her on, and she's happy with a couple different bottle and nipple types. And I'm still breastfeeding her. She loves it. She gets a lot of breastfeeding in during the late evening and in the mornings, and then lunchtime, dinnertime, and one nighttime feed are usually formula. There's also a late-afternoon breastfeeding period. I tend to get a chunk of time in the early afternoon when she isn't eating and isn't sleeping, in which we can go for walks and run errands without it being a hassle.

The times when I struggle with breastfeeding are when my nipples are sore, again. Even when she's properly latched, there can be some discomfort, though it's not the pain I experienced when we had thrush, so it's easier to deal with.

There are days when I long for the times when my breasts were not used for feeding a tiny wiggly child who wants to look around while eating.

There are days when I wish I wasn't so casual about pulling my shirt up or down and unsnapping my bra. I'm not an exhibitionist, and yet I've become extremely comfortable with breastfeeding in front of other people (though when in public, I do use the cover--it's just easier). I have to wear layers that allow me to stay warm while feeding her, so sometimes I look a little unfortunate. And when I do get a break that will keep me from feeding her for more than a couple hours, I have to plan for my breasts to get a little uncomfortably full. I don't get terribly engorged, but it's another source of discomfort. We're going to a Christmas party tomorrow night and leaving E. with some friends for the evening, and I have to make sure that what I'm wearing will withstand a little growth, and that I can fit breast pads in there, in case of leaks.

I'm tired of sharing my body with my child--it's like an extension of pregnancy, though it feels totally different, and for an introvert like me, it becomes very wearing.

And yet there are times when I appreciate it. It's convenient. It makes E. happy. When she's upset, it's often a great way to soothe her. Breastfeeding was very helpful during her first round of immunizations the other week.

I suppose there's something to this bonding and breastfeeding thing. I still don't get the rush of promised happy hormones when I feed her, though.

And I'm glad that my body works well enough that I can breastfeed her, even if she still needs the formula in order to gain weight.

But that doesn't stop me from feeling ambivalent. Is this the way it is for everyone?

03 December 2013

Checking Off: Buttonholes

I finally braved the buttonhole setting on my sewing machine and made a couple of wonky buttonholes. I don't have pictures of them (black fabric, black thread, not the best subject), but I do have a picture of E. in her finished outfit. Not the best fit, but I'm new to this pattern-drafting thing.

E. likes her jumper, but finds the camera flash startling.
Basically, the straps don't fit as well as I'd like. But she has a jumper made out of Space Invaders flannel! When I bought the material at the fabric store, the woman looked at me and said, "You aren't putting that cute little girl in this, are you?" I replied, "It's for a blanket," neglecting to mention that I was planning a jumper as well. And shoes. I didn't really feel like arguing about gender stereotypes with a complete stranger.

I have plans for a baby dress that will require more buttonholes, so I will do pictures of that when it's done. My machine makes it easy, although the last time I'd done buttonholes on it, I'd been supervised by my grandmother and I wasn't much older than ten. Of course, this is what the manual is for.

27 November 2013

What's in a Christmas?

I live with the juxtaposition of being both rather cynical about Christmas and a bit of a sap about it. I went through an "I hate Christmas" phase in high school, after Christmas had lost its ineffable zing (I think that was once I really started noticing and disliking the materialism of the holiday), but some of that wonder and fascination has seeped back over the years.

I love the music and films that evoke a sense of wonder and family. There's a great deal of humour in the holiday as well as pathos, which is probably why Love Actually and The Family Stone are among my favourite Christmas films. I also have a fondness for Elf, because my husband and I watched that together one night shortly before we admitted that we were turning into a couple and decided to make that transformation deliberate, rather than accidental. I suppose that means I should also really love Back to the Future, since a Back to the Future marathon sparked the incident which forced us to talk about our relationship, but since we were watching that with a group of friends, and it was just us watching Elf, I tend to have fuzzier feelings about that one. The traditional movies, like White Christmas are great, too, and I usually end up watching those at some point during the holidays.

E. and I were out for a walk the other week while people who work for the city were putting lights in the trees. It hit me that we get to experience Christmas with her from now on. This year she'll probably be fascinated with the lights, and next year, well, I'll have to make sure our tiny tree is out of her reach, since she'll be about 16 months old then and probably into everything. We took her for a walk in the evening so she could see the lights and the sparkly Christmas trees in the shop windows, and she found them captivating. True, sometimes she finds the wall captivating, but I think this time it was the sparklies that were so interesting.

We don't intend to do Santa with E. It wasn't something that my family really did; I don't remember ever believing in Santa Claus, though I did believe in fairies. Neither of us is particularly enthused by the idea of waiting in line at the mall with a bunch of screaming children so we can plop our child onto a stranger's lap and then pay an exorbitant amount for a picture. And I don't want her to have the expectation that Christmas is about the presents, and that if you're good enough, Santa will bring you anything you want.

J. and I like giving and receiving gifts, but we're not particularly gift-oriented. If you're looking at the "love languages" thing that was so popular a few years ago, gift-giving is at the bottom of the list for us. So we don't want Christmas to be all about the presents, fun as they are.

I try to live through the Christmas season focusing on Advent (originally a time of fasting prior to Christmas), to live in expectation, rather than getting caught up in the more hectic aspects of the season. It doesn't always work, but sometimes, I stumble across serenity.

I found myself rather more literally living in expectation last Advent, when we found out E. was on her way a week and a half before Christmas. The Christmas Eve service that year resonated more deeply than usual. This year, with a new little person in our lives, I wonder what Christmas has in store for us?

05 November 2013

All's Well That Ends Well

By the time I was halfway through the first scene in All's Well That Ends Well, my eyebrows had hit my forehead. I'm no longer wondering why my English lit teacher in high school did not include this play on the syllabus for the Shakespeare class. That first scene contains an amusing discourse on virginity, how it is lost, and whether it's better to keep or lose it, and how it doesn't keep well (odd to think of that having an expiry date). Needless to say, given that the Shakespeare lit class I did in grade 12 was for homeschooling families, I can't see it going over well with the parents or with some of the students.

The story goes thus: A young woman named Helena is in love with young Count Betram, who has recently departed for the sick and ailing King of France's court. She is an attendant of his mother's, the Countess, and is the daughter of a physician. When the Countess discovers Helena's love for her son, she wishes to encourage it, and so Helena departs for Paris, hoping to gain favour in the King's eyes, and a promise of marriage to Betram, by providing him with some of her father's medicines. When she meets with the King, she offers to cure him. If her remedies fail, then her own life is forfeit, but if she succeeds, the King will arrange a marriage for her with the man of her choice. In the meantime, Bertram and the King's lords are trying to handle a war within Italy which France is involved with.

Helena's medicines work, so the King allows her to choose a husband. When she selects Bertram, he refuses. The King insists, so Bertram marries Helena, then refuses to consummate the marriage and sends her home, intending to head out for Italy the next day. So Helena hatches a new plan. She leaves France and goes to Italy as a pilgrim, where she encounters a woman and her daughter, Diana. Diana has caught the eye of Bertram. She's not happy about it, nor about his promises to marry her once his wife is dead. Helena takes Diana's place in bed the one night she consents to sleep with Bertram, and claims his ring. Then she fakes her death, so Bertram believes himself free to wed another. When Diana turns up at the King's court, claiming Bertram as her husband now that his wife is dead, he disavows her. A friend of his bears witness that Bertram was in love with Diana and had claimed to sleep with her. When Diana claims to yet be a maid, confusing matters more, the King is about to throw her into prison when Helena arrives, revealing that she stood in for Diana and therefore claimed her own husband. Bertram acquiesces to a marriage with her now that she has out-smarted him, and the King volunteers to provide a dowry for Diana, for the work she did in assisting Helena.

This isn't one of the more popular comedies. The ending is dissatisfying because, though Helena triumphs, she has chosen a man who only accepts her once she has proven that she is more clever than he, and that makes her somewhat worthy in his eyes, when before, she didn't matter because she was not highborn. He's not the greatest of men. His friend Lafeu, who provides wise and insightful commentary on the situation throughout the play, is a far better character. I feel like Helena's been cheated, even though she wants Bertram and does get him in the end.

One more comedy to go, and it's the one I've been waiting for: A Winter's Tale!

Quotes
"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven." Helena, All's Well That Ends Well, I.1.218-219

"If men could be contented to
be what they are, there were no fear in marriage." Clown, All's Well That Ends Well, I.3.370-371

"I am not a day of season,
For thou mayst see a sunshine and a hail
In me at once: but to the brightest beams
Distracted clouds give way; so stand thou forth;
The time is fair again" The King of France, All's Well That Ends Well, V.3.2711-2715

Twelfth Night; or, What You Will

Note: Yes, this project went on an unintentional hiatus for a while, but we are getting back on track. The comedies will get finished up this week and then we'll be on to the histories. 

I think my extreme fondness for Twelfth Night was strongly influenced by the film version starring Imogen Stubbs and Helena Bonham Carter. It's a great production. It rearranges a few things and cuts down some of the speeches, but it's fantastic. I've also seen it staged by Portland's Shakespeare in the Park company. Live outdoor theatre...and my favourite show. I was so into Twelfth Night that my fifteenth birthday party was themed around the play (and yes, yes, I am a geek). To be honest, it isn't as thought-provoking as some of the comedies, but I find the characters interesting and the plot more cohesive than the other comedies which use similar plot devices.

Twelfth Night uses the plot devices of the separated twins (which we saw in Comedy of Errors) and the shipwreck (Comedy of Errors again, and Tempest), but isn't like either of those plays. In this case, the twins are a brother and sister. Each believes the other dead, and the sister, Viola, finding herself without family on a foreign shore, goes for that other classic Shakespearean plot device, cross-dressing. She dresses up as a man. Then she heads over to the local Duke's residence and gets a job working with him. The Duke, Orsino, grows quite attached to his new attendant, and sends her to convince the nearby Countess Olivia to marry him. Olivia's not interested, and has told Orsino so repeatedly, but he is persistent. Viola's pleas on behalf of her master attract Olivia's attention, but sadly, her attention is grabbed, not by Orsino's love, but by Viola's words and appearance. Caught between Olivia's demands and her own love for Orsino, Viola's about ready to pull her hair out when it all comes to a head. Her brother Sebastian, who survived the shipwreck, arrives in town and is mistaken for her by Olivia. He is happily swayed by Olivia's invitations (she's beautiful, she's rich, she wants him) and the two secretly marry. Orsino and his retinue arrive at Olivia's for a visit, Viola and Sebastian come face to face and Viola's gender is revealed. The siblings are reunited, Olivia accepts Viola as a sister, and Orsino proposes to Viola.

The secondary plot involves a number of Olivia's servants and one of her relatives. It involves the overly pompous steward, the drunkard relative, the local fool, the housekeeper, and a few others. The steward, Malvolio, is in need of a comeuppance, and the others decide to give it to him. I love this part of the story, and I think it's a better-structured one than many of the subplots in the other comedies (the ones in Measure for Measure and Two Gentlemen of Verona were so simple as to be nearly non-existent). The practical joke angle keeps it fairly light-hearted when the main plot is dealing with Viola's frustration at loving a man who is eager to confide in her but doesn't know she's a woman, her grief for her brother, and her trying to convince Olivia to stop loving her. As both plots end with at least one wedding, the story's a happy one, though there is some angst in the middle.

And that's Twelfth Night. If you can, get to a production near you, or watch the film. We'll wind up our journey through Shakespeare's comedies with A Winter's Tale  and All's Well That Ends Well before we proceed into the histories.

Favourite Quotes
"O, had I but followed the arts!" Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Twelfth Night, I.3.202-203

"Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we!
For such as we are made of, such we be" Viola, Twelfth Night, II.2.688-689

"A sentence is but a cheveril glove to a good wit: how quickly the
wrong side may be turned outward!" Feste, Twelfth Night, III.1.1246-1248

"And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges." Feste, Twelfth Night, V.1.2589

elitist

This last weekend was a whirlwind of busy-ness. My parents, one of my brothers, my grandparents, and my in-laws were all in town. My family arrived on Friday, so E. and I spent most of the afternoon with them, had a break before dinner, and then did dinner with them. Saturday morning, J. and I dropped E. off with my parents so they could hang out with her and we got some much-needed time to ourselves before we had to go back to pick her up and drive out to Abbotsford for my graduation.

I must say, I definitely enjoyed the MA grad ceremony far more than the one for my BA. The speeches were shorter and more interesting, and it was really neat to see my name and my thesis title printed in the program. I didn't get to wear a funny hat--they skipped those this year--but hopefully I'll be faculty at a university at some point in the future and then I can buy my own funny hat to wear to commencement ceremonies. My hood colours are definitely ones I can live with. Red and white suit me much better than the blue and orange than one of the other programs had.

Me just after being hooded (photo by North Clackamas Photo, aka my dad)
The other preferable side of the MA graduation is that I got to pick up my diploma then and there. I don't have a frame for it yet, but I'm going to get one sometime soon and stick it up on the wall. I think my diploma from my BA is in a box somewhere. It's funny how I'm still paying for my BA (no student loans for the MA!), but the MA means a lot more even though it didn't cost as much. It's exciting, though. My youngest brother is threatening to get a Ph.D. just to out-do me, but since I'm planning to start on one of those sometime in the next ten years, he'll have to get going on that (he's in his last year of high school and is uncertain about what to major in--he's said he wants to do a Ph.D. in General Studies).

I'll be going in to school sometime in the next couple weeks to take advantage of the alumni perks. I can get a parking pass for the school for free, and a subscription to the library for a really great price. I want the parking pass so I can go in and use the library without having to pay for parking. I think the library subscription gives me access to the journal databases, which I need if I'm going to work on a couple of the paper ideas that I want to submit to a journal.

E. survived being away from me for over four hours, which I think is the longest we've gone being apart so far. When I held her after the ceremony and asked if she missed me, she stared at the wall. She had everyone making a fuss over her, so she was fine. My grandparents love her, my parents and my in-laws love her...I'm almost afraid to think what Christmas is going to look like. My dad took hundreds of pictures of her over the weekend. She's pretty photogenic most of the time. There will probably be thousands of pictures of her by the time Christmas is over.

My brothers have decided that (at least for now), I'm the official elitist of the family, since I'm the one with the Master's. We're having an elitist party at Christmas to celebrate the graduations that have taken place over the last couple years in our family (two of my brothers, J., me). It's also an excuse to invite people over that haven't seen me in years because while I was waiting for my paperwork to be processed here, I couldn't leave Canada. I haven't visited my hometown for nearly three years, I think. And now we're only about 6 weeks away from being there. Dang it. I have to start Christmas shopping.

30 October 2013

Knit City!

So, I'm a dork who forgot her camera, so I don't have any actual pictures from Knit City, Vancouver's fiber festival (now in its second year, and even more awesome this time around). It was lovely, though we didn't stay too long, because Munchkin was sleeping peacefully and we wanted to make it home before she woke up and got grouchy. I did a wander-through, hung out at the guild booth, talked myself out of saying hi to the Yarn Harlot (I have met her, but only briefly at a book signing last year), and found something cool, which I do have a picture of.

Qiviut. Real qiviut.
I have this policy with spinning fibers right now. If I haven't worked with it before, then I can consider buying it. Ancient Arts Fiber Crafts was doing 30% off their exotic fibers. This included 25 gram bags of raw qiviut, originally at a dollar per gram. That's right. I have qiviut.

Qiviut, from the Artic musk ox, is one of those horrendously expensive fibers. It is soft, fluffy, the animals shed it in small amounts, and there are relatively few Artic musk oxen running around. This contributes to qiviut yarn frequently costing $60-$100 a ball. The stores in the area that carry it keep the stuff locked up in glass cases by the cash register.

My qiviut is a brown-grey, and is liberally sprinkled with black guard hairs. It's raw fiber, not processed, which is partly why I could justify buying it.

This will be less than 25 grams once I finish winnowing out the guard hairs. I plan to spin it as fine as I can manage, since this is best as a lace-weight yarn (it goes farther that way). Once I know what my yardage is, I'll make a decision on what it will be. In the meantime, I will bask in the glory of having qiviut, and curse those pecky guard hairs.

21 October 2013

hats

I'm still amazed that someone who weighs less than eight pounds takes up so much time. I've been working on a sweater but I'm barely finished with the first sleeve (starting with the sleeve to avoid the sweater getting stuck in sleeve purgatory). It's easier to knit small, simple things right now. I managed to knit E. yet another hat this last week.

E. at 2 months in another new hat.
The pattern is Be Loving by Melissa Simpson. This is the newborn size, but she has a small head and I knit it with handspun that was probably more of an aran weight than a worsted. She'll grow into it. I'm on a hat kick, I think. I have this urge to knit all the baby hats in my Ravelry library. E. doesn't need 30 hats, but there are a few babies of friends on their way, so they may be getting hats.

Baby hats. Hats are easy.

17 October 2013

sleep with a side of Thanksgiving

I keep trying to start posts and then something (usually E.) highjacks them. Since we got the munchkin actually gaining weight, we've had Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving is awesome because we get eggnog in the grocery store earlier than the Americans do), gone to the Cranberry Festival, and successfully navigated the passport office.

Thanksgiving: My in-laws came down (they live up north, so it's down-ish to get here), and took E. for a couple hours Saturday morning so J. and I could go to the Cranberry Festival without her. It was lovely to have a date and some time for just the two of us, but it did feel a bit like we'd forgotten something. We had Thanksgiving dinner in the evening. J. and I got an organic turkey and brined it, and my brother-in-law made some of his fabulous side dishes--sprouts with bacon and bleu cheese, something with sweet potatoes that was amazing, and cranberry chutney. E. was pretty happy over the weekend, despite all the craziness, and even slept for 5-6 hours several days in a row. Then, of course, she changed her mind and I didn't get much sleep Tuesday night.

But last night...ah, last night was amazing. She fell asleep around 9:30 in the evening, and woke up at 5:30 in the morning. We also went to bed at 9:30, since she was asleep, so I think I got about 7 hours last night. I still woke up a few times at night to make sure she was still breathing, and I don't really expect her to repeat the feat tonight, but it was pretty incredible. I think we're in the middle of a growth spurt--she ate extra yesterday and then slept most of the day today when she wasn't eating.

Her deciding that sleep was a great idea came at the perfect time, since we were headed into the passport office this morning. She slept on the bus on the way there, she slept in the passport office and completely ignored the enormity of me applying for her to get her very own passport (so we can take her to the States for Christmas to visit my family). Then she slept through the visit to TNT to get pork buns, woke up long enough to eat, then dozed off again during lunch and on the bus ride home. It was lovely being the mum with the sleeping baby in a stroller, rather than the screaming baby.

Now she seems to be dozing off on me, so I'm going to hand her off to J. to see if he can convince her to stay asleep for a bit since it's night now.

07 October 2013

Milk: The Saga Continues

The trying-to-feed-my-child saga has come to another turn. Last Monday, my doctor gave me a prescription for Domperidone, to help boost my milk supply, but told me that I might need to supplement. J. and I decided we'd give it a few days to see if the medication would make a difference, and then if it didn't, we would start supplementing. I'd weighed E. on Monday, so I went back to the public health unit on Friday to weigh her again. She was pretty furious about the whole scale thing as usual, and when the numbers settled, I knew what we'd be doing that evening. Over five days, she had gained one ounce.

That is not normal weight gain for a baby at all. The most she's gained in a week so far has been three ounces, and that's with spending most of the day attached to my chest. No wonder she's been so fussy. This week, she decided that me setting her down constituted horrible torture that required much screaming. I couldn't even get a glass of water without her screaming at me.

Fortunately, we had bottles on hand (since I'd had ambitions of expressing enough milk for a whole bottle), and we have half a dozen cans of formula that our doctor offered me (I think he was tired of them cluttering up his counter and he doesn't have a lot of really young patients in his practice right now), so I didn't have to go to the store and stare helplessly at all the choices. When J. got home from work, we mixed up a bottle and he gave it to her. She was pretty happy about it. She was also pretty happy about breastfeeding again at her next feed, and has remained happy about either option (unless she's grumpy, in which case, breastfeeding makes her happier. Actually, she's just happier in general. She's not always too excited about diaper changes, or about the part of baths where we wash her hair, but she's not screaming about being hungry anymore, and she's sleeping more because she doesn't have to eat quite as constantly.

I'm still breastfeeding her as much as I can, but there are times when she's getting next to nothing out of there, is really hungry, and starts getting extremely upset. Those are the times when she's been breastfeeding for something like an hour, and then downs 4 ounces of formula in less than ten minutes when we offer her a bottle, and drops off to the sleep.

And the difference, other than her moods and her sleep schedule?

I weighed her this afternoon. She'd gained about seven ounces since the last time I'd weighed her. She's finally over the six pound mark. Finally.

02 October 2013

beet sandwiches

One of the disadvantages of having a newborn who wants to eat constantly is that I don't really get to cook much. I'm limited to what I can make in a short time, and this is at the beginning of autumn, when the weather cools down and I suddenly get the urge to start baking bread and making soup to counteract the chill. Today, my time in the kitchen was spent making tea and sandwiches. It's good tea, and they were good sandwiches, but I find myself perusing the "food" tab on Pinterest rather avidly and wishing E. would let me set her down long enough during the day to mix up some pizza dough.

I did make reasonably interesting sandwiches, at least. We have beets that I picked up at the farmer's market last week, and a ham that we bought on the weekend so we'd have something to make sandwiches out of all week. Ham and beet sandwiches it was.

These aren't our beets, but taking pictures of produce when your child is demanding more food seems semi-irresponsible and it just stresses me out when she's upset and I'm far too sleep-deprived to want to add to my stress levels.
Using beets, or beetroot, on sandwiches is a relatively new concept for me. I ran across the idea at a bistro in downtown Vancouver over near the yarn shop Gina Brown's a couple years ago. I was part of the team organizing Yarn Harvest, our local yearly yarn crawl, and we were meeting with store owners to go over what was happening that year. We spent a lot of time driving around town, and stopped to get lunch at a small restaurant. I decided to fling caution to the wind and order the vegetarian sandwich (usually I don't go with the vegetarian sandwich options, because they often lack imagination. Who really wants only lettuce and cheese for lunch?). The sandwich came with grated beets. And it was good. I bought beets the next time I went grocery shopping and tried my own version.

That wasn't the first time I'd learned that the red vegetables I'd shunned as a child were actually quite tasty. The year before, on a class field trip to the UBC library (we linguists know how to have a good time), I'd discovered that beets are also good on pizza. A couple years before that, my roommate and I made borscht because we were curious. Both of these experiences were much tastier than my first encounter with beets, which was as pickled beets on my grandparents' Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables. Beets have an interesting flavour to start, and adding the tartness of pickling just made them less appealing to a kid who was not exactly picky, but who had yet to become an adventurous eater.

I still don't like pickled beets, but I'm not that excited about most pickled foods (home-made pickled daikon is an exception--it's fantastic toasted on baguette with melted cheese on top, though this is not what it was originally intended for). Fresh beets, or beets in soup, on the other hand, are much more interesting to me. Eaten raw, the root is crunchy but not difficult to chew, and has a dark, earthy taste with hints of sweetness. Cooked, it doesn't soften easily, so unlike potatoes or carrots, it retains some of that crunch. It may turn everything pink, but that's part of the fun. Unless you're wearing a white top while chopping it, of course.

Today's sandwiches were ham with slices of beet and sliced mushrooms. The bread was a little pink, and my fingertips are still slightly pink, but beets and ham go well together. Thesaltiness of the ham complements the sweetness of the beets, and the texture added to the sandwich with the beets is very pleasant. It might have been a little better with mustard, but we're out, so I used horseradish instead. I'm contemplating making mustard at some point this fall, once E. lets me set her down for more than five minutes before deciding to wake up. In the meantime, we've added it to the grocery list, so we'll try ham and beets with mustard tomorrow. Is it a lack of imagination on my part that I'm willing to eat the same thing several days in a row because I can make it in-between feedings?

01 October 2013

the complexities of milk

This breast-feeding thing has gotten more complicated in the last few weeks. I have to admit that I'm getting tired of my relationship with my daughter centering around food. Admittedly, her needs right now involve being fed, changed, and kept warm, so that's inescapable to a certain extent, but this is getting frustrating.

It started with my milk taking a little longer to come in than normal, or at least, coming in but there not being that much of it at first. Then my supply went up a bit, then went down, and we got to experience a screaming child who was being fed every two hours at a minimum but was still hungry and was gaining weight at a rate of at least 2 ounces less per week than the low range of normal. Then I got thrush, which is now improving, but the visit to the doctor to find out what I needed to do for the thrush resulted in him saying that I might have a low milk supply.

Off we went to the public health unit to weigh her before and after a feed and to talk with one of the nurses. Naturally, we hit the fussy point of the afternoon, so the visit consisted of the nurse and me trying to calm E. down enough to eat so we could see how much she got in. After she ingested a staggering 5 grams of milk, she calmed down and fell asleep. The nurse and I talked through what we could do to up my milk supply. I'd already started downing more water, and now I'm doing breast compressions while feeding and trying to make the time to do some hand-expressing in-between feedings. The look on her face when we started syringe-feeding her some expressed milk was priceless. Milk had never come out of a finger before and we definitely messed with her paradigm for how the world works. Cup feeding elicited similar expressions.

This got us to the point where E. is sleeping better, screaming less, and seems much happier when she's awake, but not to the point where she's gaining weight faster. My tiny child and I went back to the doctor yesterday and I'm now on medication to help boost my milk supply, and we've got a couple tins of formula in reserve in case that isn't enough.

Every medical professional I've talked with so far has been very encouraging and fairly helpful (the doctor from our practice that I spoke to yesterday was more in favour of supplementing than the one I spoke with last week, but they all still want me to keep breastfeeding as much as possible and want to make that happen). It's frustrating that everything else is fine with her except for her weight gain. She's growing bigger, she's alert, she's wetting the requisite number of diapers, she's getting better at holding her head up, and she can even roll over sometimes and she's not quite six weeks old. If the medication and possible supplementing don't do the trick within the next month, we get to visit a paediatrician to see if there's something else going on that's affecting her weight gain.

I'm not as stressed about all of this as I would expect to be, but I think I'm too tired to worry much. Whatever happens, we'll do what we need to in order to get her fed. I'm giving the medication a week or so after it kicks in to see if it's making a difference with her weight gain, and if not, then we'll add in a bottle or two of formula per day to round things out. I really wanted to get to the six months of exclusive breast-feeding, but making sure my child is getting enough food is more important. Now if you'll excuse me, she's dozed off so it's time to try expressing some extra milk. Sigh.

27 September 2013

moving forward

Today, I did something that the last few years have been leading up to. I submitted the final draft of my thesis and handed in the last of the paperwork. It's done. The graduation ceremony is in November. I am, for now, no longer a grad student.

It's a strange feeling. I finished my coursework some time ago, and have been working on the thesis since then. My pregnancy gave me the kick in the butt I needed to get the whole thing done, and I finished my final edits with E. propped up on my lap so I could breastfeed and use the computer at the same time.

I have been a student, more or less continually, for over twenty years (if we count kindergarten as my first year of studenthood). Kindergarten, grade school, junior high, high school, undergrad, and now my master's. I do plan to do a Ph.D. at some point, but it's not the right time for that. And I'm tired of being a student. I like learning, and I will not cease to learn just because I'm not taking classes, but it's nice to be done, weird as it feels.

On to the next adventure...we've embarked on parenthood, and I'm curious to see what else crops up. Could be interesting.

13 September 2013

8 Things They Don't Tell You About Breastfeeding

While I was pregnant, I read a lot of books about breastfeeding, and we went to the breastfeeding class offered by the public health unit. Although I'd been a little leery of breastfeeding prior to getting pregnant, I came around to the idea pretty quickly once I knew a baby was on the way. It would mean that we wouldn't have to buy formula, and there are all those health benefits to it. I read a lot of women's stories about the difficulties they experienced while breastfeeding, and mentally prepared accordingly. I told myself that if we needed to supplement, I wouldn't feel guilty about it, since the important thing is to make sure your child has food.

So far, the whole breastfeeding thing hasn't been too difficult, which is the opposite of what I'd anticipated. E.'s not gaining weight as quickly as I would like, but she is gaining, and she's going through what the books and handouts tell me is the appropriate amount of diapers, so I know she's getting enough. My milk supply is still sorting itself out, so if she sleeps for a few hours, my breasts get a bit engorged, but that hasn't been too bad. My milk took a few days to come in properly, and my nipples are still sore, but for the most part, it's going a lot more smoothly than I'd expected, given all the stories I'd heard about potential problems. At the same time, there are also feelings and experiences I hadn't expected.

1. They'll tell you in the books and in the classes that if the baby's latched on properly, breastfeeding shouldn't hurt. What they don't tell you is that, even with a proper latch, breastfeeding will hurt for the first minute or so and then that pain just turns into discomfort. I had this confirmed as normal when I went to talk to one of the nurses at the public health unit and she told me that E.'s latch was great, and the discomfort was expected. Notice that I was only told this after I'd started breastfeeding.

2. Posture's really important. I finished feeding E. a few nights ago and handed her over to J. so he could convince her to sleep and, instead of going to sleep myself, I found myself experiencing very painful spasms in my upper back. I had to take Tylenol and then hop in the shower for a while before curling up with a hot water bottle. It's harder to achieve good posture while breastfeeding when you're out and about--chairs without arms and the lack of available pillows mean that there is less support for holding the baby up, so it's easier to hunch over and not think about the consequences until later.

3. Lanolin cream is your friend. Really. They'll mention it in the classes, but it's a very good idea to use it frequently. It's soothing and it helps toughen the nipples up. Those first few days are especially painful, so it helps to have anything that makes your skin feel better. Wet tea bags are also helpful, because of the tannins, although E. didn't quite like the taste they left behind.

4. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which is supposed to make you feel good. You know what else it does? It causes the uterus to contract. This is fantastic for recovery after birth, but especially in the first couple of days, it's painful--just like menstrual cramps or mild labour pains. So not only are you extremely sore from giving birth, with very sore nipples, you're also getting contractions every time you feed your baby. These lighten up, but I'm still getting occasional twinges at nearly every feeding. I'm not really noticing the alleged happy effects of the oxytocin, and am starting to wonder if that's actually true.

5. Breastfeeding can be exhausting. You're tethered to a tiny human being who doesn't care about your needs at all and wants to eat all the time. When a growth spurts hit, your child will want to eat even more frequently, so it will feel like your entire life is about feeding the baby. And right now, yes, it is. You don't get privacy or time just for you--the baby needs to eat. For an introvert like me, this can be really difficult.

6. Breastfeeding is also boring. You can only stare at your child for so long before you get tired of watching them eat and start counting the number of blotches on their skin from baby acne. Yes, you can do stuff around the baby, but it takes practice to learn that. I can now type and knit around E., but it took me a while, and I still have to be careful because if she gets dislodged slightly, she ends up yanking on my nipple. Let's just say that I'm very happy that we have Netflix (even if Canadian Netflix has a lot of inexplicable gaps--they have filmed Supernatural not three blocks from here and I can't get it on Netflix or at the library).

7. You will be told that you need to eat a healthy, balanced diet to keep up your milk supply and to provide proper nourishment for your child. You will not be told how to achieve this when your partner goes back to work and your baby starts cluster-feeding, thereby anchoring you to the couch with no one to cook for you. I doubt that coffee and Goldfish crackers constitute a balanced diet, so I'm hoping that the vitamins I'm taking will help mitigate things a bit. This may get better when I can put her down between feedings without her waking up or screaming her head off. Yesterday, I cooked breakfast at about 10:30 in the morning, even though I'd been up since 4, and she cried through most of it, while I tried to tell her that I really, really needed to eat and that I'd be feeding her again in just a few minutes.

8. You're also encouraged to breastfeed because it helps with bonding. I assume that this is true, since it's hard not to bond somehow with a person that's connected to you physically for so many hours in the day, but it doesn't feel as wonderful and magical as so many lactivist blogs say it is. It probably is for some people, but not for me. That may change once E. is doing more than eating, sleeping, and pooping, but at this stage, I don't feel an overwhelming rush of joy when she starts eating. I'm glad she's eating, and I'm glad this is working, but I'm sure I'd be just as paranoid about whether or not she's still breathing if we were bottle-feeding. I doubt that I'm alone in this. My mother says that it seems like some people turn breastfeeding into a religion, and I am apparently not one of them. Maybe I'll feel differently once E. starts smiling deliberately.

If I didn't think that it was important to breastfeed, and if we had the money for formula, I might very well not be breastfeeding, or be doing mixed feeding. I don't particularly enjoy having someone so dependent on me 24/7 and I'm very much looking forward to when we can introduce solid food in late February. It's not really easy right now. The first day of cluster-feeding made me feel really helpless and isolated, and I started sobbing the moment J. got home from work, because she hadn't slept for more than a hour at a time all day and had eaten constantly, so I didn't get anything done and hadn't gotten any sleep. It's a relief to hand her off to him and watch him play with her, because right now, her automatic response to me is, "Mommy=food." Even if I've just fed her, if I'm holding her and she's awake, she starts rooting.

However, my frustration and ambivalence do not mean I'm going to stop breastfeeding. I'm determined to hit the 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding mark if it's at all possible, though I'm less excited about the idea of breastfeeding her past a year. That part we'll play by ear. Somehow, the thought of breastfeeding someone who can walk and talk doesn't appeal to me that much right now, but we'll see how we all feel once we get there. In the meantime, five months and one week to go before we can add in solid foods. And one week before I can start pumping and introduce occasional bottle-feeding.

30 August 2013

the beginning of the new adventure

Last week, I nearly posted a very whiny essay about how frustrated and impatient I was for the baby to arrive. I was getting frequent false labour (a couple times I had contractions five minutes apart and when I called the hospital, they said it didn't sound like I was in enough pain for it to be real labour), I was exhausted, and, of course, highly emotional with it all. My due date passed, the clinic scheduled me for an induction a week and a half after my due date, and then that night, after I'd written down all the info about the induction and was not looking forward to the multiple hospital visits the next week, I woke up with more contractions. These ones felt a little different. They were regular-ish, somewhere between 3-5 minutes apart, and they did hurt. They didn't seemed inclined to stop, either. I waited a few hours, and then called the hospital. They told me to come in.

So now I am exhausted and highly emotional because we have a one-week old baby. E. was born about 11 hours after I realized I was in labour, and all things considered, it was an easy birth. I got my wish of no painkillers, but ended up with an episiotomy when she was in a bit of distress there towards the end. As the episiotomy was preferable to the forceps, I'm not too unhappy with that. Not happy about how much it hurts sometimes, but it's gotten to manageable levels.

J. was pretty impressed with how I did during labour, and has been really great. He goes back to work in a week, and I'm going to miss him badly during the day. As we're slowly starting to convince E. to sleep in her crib for extended periods of time, some things are getting easier. She has decided that it's a great idea to be fussy most of the night. I have no real idea of how often she was eating last night, or how much sleep I had. It's a blur of dozing and feeding and asking J. to take her for a bit because she was so grumpy she wouldn't eat. I can certainly see the appeal of formula-feeding, but as the adjustment to breast-feeding is mostly annoying because of the lack of me time, I think we'll stick with it.

For now, since she's stopped eating and dozed off, I'm going to go put her in the crib and hope she stays asleep for a while so I can get some sleep.

13 August 2013

zucchinis and nesting

We don't often cook with zucchini in our home. J. doesn't like it, and I've never been particularly fond of most variations of it. I tend to prefer winter squashes and we both like cucumber, but zucchini is hard to like. I went through a ratatouille phase about five years ago, and both of us got thoroughly tired of zucchini and eggplant stew (since I did the simple peasant version, rather than the elaborately sliced and layered one). I think it's the texture and the bland taste that put me off.


But last week, some friends gave us a few zucchinis. They planted some in their community garden plot this year and, given that this is zucchini, they have it coming out of their ears and are running out of freezer room. I elected to make zucchini bread and discovered that two loaves of the bread used up less than one zucchini. I used the recipe I found here. It's very moist but a little bland, so if I make it again, I'm using brown sugar for at least part of the sweetener, a little more salt, and definitely more cinnamon.

Yesterday I did another batch using a different recipe. This one was for chocolate zucchini bread. I made a double batch and stuck it in the freezer. The chunk of it that stuck in one of the pans tasted pretty good, so I think it turned out okay. More flavourful than the other recipe, but that's what happens when you add chocolate. Then I grated up the rest of the zucchini and froze it in a couple of portions so I have enough on hand to try making zucchini fritters and at least one more batch of bread.

I've been on a baking kick, despite the heat. There are a couple batches of muffins in the freezer next to the zucchini bread. I think it's a nesting thing. We don't have lots of freezer space, so I can't freeze as many things for winter as I would like (such as fruit), and we certainly don't have room for frozen casseroles or anything like that. I can't go with the suggestion to have meals frozen and ready to re-heat for after the baby's born. With the available space, I might be able to squash in one casserole dish. My mum used to do this thing where she'd cook dinners for a month and store them in our chest freezer. She can store a lot of fruit and vegetables in there, too. But I don't get to do that. Maybe someday, when we own a place or live in a larger house, we can look into getting a deep-freeze. I fantasize about an upright one, since I have fun memories of almost toppling into the freezer as a kid. And as an adult. I haven't grown any taller since I was about thirteen, and having to bend over and balance on the edge of the freezer to try and reach stuff near the bottom is awkward when you're short and your arms are not long.

I don't think we'll be living on cereal for weeks once the baby's here, but we did get some canned soup, and I'm hoping to make a trip to the Korean grocery store today to pick up some extra noodles and few other things. My mum will be staying with us for a bit, and the friend who gave us the zucchini has offered to bring food over. J.'s taking a couple weeks of parental leave as well, so living on cereal will probably happen in September, rather than during this month.

08 August 2013

a couple of finished things

I did manage to complete a couple of knitted things over the last weekend, despite the attack of the late pregnancy angst (triggered in part by the brief visit of rain and clouds that was snatched away by cloudless skies and lots of sunshine. Irritating hot sunshine). The angst has mostly abated for the moment, but of course, it could re-occur at any time. Knitting helps. I should have tried more knitting on Tuesday, when I found out that yes, I am positive for Group B Strep, so I get to have an IV full of penicillin while I'm in labour (which is, of course, preferable to my child catching GBS from me and having to stay in the hospital for an extra week--it just means that I don't get to put "no IV" on my birth plan). That was an angsty day. I'm also 38 weeks along, frequently experiencing false labour, and exhausted all the time. And the baby's running out of room.

Anyway, I finished this hat for one of my friends. She crochets and doesn't knit, but fell in love with the pattern, so I told her if she bought the yarn and the pattern, I'd knit it for her. The pattern is Rosewater, by tincanknits, from their latest collection, Handmade in the UK. You can get the individual pattern or the e-book from Ravelry, or you can also order the print book. 88 Stitches, my LYS, has the book and individual patterns for sale, so Jules just bought the paper pattern. One-half of the Tin Can Knits team is local (I believe they used to both be local before one of them moved to the UK), so I've met them at fibre shows. The baby cardigan I knit a while ago is one of their creations, and while I don't usually knit blankets, I'm planning on knitting their POP blanket at some point, because it's awesome.

Rosewater Hat, blocking over a plate
Rosewater has one of those lace patterns which requires moving the start-of-round marker back and forth occasionally, so it's not a mindless pattern. But it's not a difficult knit, either. Since I have the pattern, and it's one of my favourite hat styles, I'll probably knit one for myself at some point. This one was knit in a heavier weight than the pattern recommended, so I knit a smaller size to compensate. Next time I make it, I'll use something more like the recommended yarn.

Rosewater Hat, post-blocking
I also knit a diaper cover. This is the pattern Tiny Pants, which is free. It's a pretty fast knit. I used some BFL handspun that I finished a while ago and hadn't made up my mind as to what it was going to be. BFL is usually really soft, so it seemed like a good choice for the baby. The striping looks a little off on the second leg and it blocked out a bit weirdly, but I really doubt that Munchkin is going to care. I lanolinized these when I finished them, since they'll be exposed to dampness once in a while. I'd never lanolinized anything before, so I looked up a few sets of instructions on the internet and went from there. That wasn't a thing on my crafting to-do list, although in retrospect, maybe it's something I should have added. I've heard it can be really nice to have a pair of lanolinized socks to wear at night to moisturize your feet, so maybe I'll do that with a plain pair of socks sometime. In this case, I did it because lanolin helps waterproof wool (which I'm guessing prevents wool from felting onto the sheep in wet weather). The material now feels a little greasy, but I think that's normal. These will probably be too warm to wear at first, but sometime in September, we should be able to dig them out and use them.

Tiny Pants, after the addition of lanolin

02 August 2013

book musings: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

The Lower Mainland's typical weather has returned (although probably only for the weekend). There are clouds, and there is rain. I woke up at 2:30 in the morning to hear rain pouring down. I ventured out this morning, sans jacket or umbrella, to get a few ingredients for dinner. My dinner plans were inspired partly by the weather, and partly by a section in a book I just read.

The book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink, discusses a variety of ways we tend to overeat, examining the causes behind our actions and suggesting ways that we can actively change our poor eating habits. He's a fan of the "eat food you enjoy and eat lots of vegetables, but just don't overdo it" attitude, which is pleasantly refreshing after reading a few bits and pieces about the Paleo diet recently. Anyway, there's a section on comfort food. His studies have shown that not all comfort food is automatically unhealthy, and that comfort food can be established in adult life, as well as during childhood. Of course, I immediately started thinking about my own comfort foods and why I associated positive feelings with them.

Tea is a big one. Hot black Assam tea with milk. I've liked tea most of my life, but I really got into it when I was working in a British tea room/import store the summer before I started university. When things were slow, the cook would make a pot of tea and, since she and many of my co-workers were British, it was usually black and usually she would add milk. It took a little time for me to appreciate the milk in the tea, since before that I had been a tea purist who rarely added anything to the drink, but I soon learned that with the dark, malty teas, milk brings out flavours that might be otherwise missed. It's a quick way to relax, and it's certainly not a high-calorie, high-fat comfort food, even if I decide to use half-and-half instead of milk. I've missed my favourite kinds of tea over the last nine months, because I've had to cut down on my caffeine intake, and most of the decaf versions of Assam that I've tried just haven't been all that great. Drinkable, yes. Really good? Not exactly. I've done some reading about caffeine and breast-feeding, and it looks like I should be able to get away with the caffeinated tea, providing it doesn't make Munchkin hyper-active.

Miso soup
 There are other comfort foods on my list. Miso soup, which has been wonderful at soothing my stomach during this pregnancy. Sushi, which I associate with J. and some of our earliest dates (he puts sushi on his comfort food list, too). Cafe au lait, though I'm not sure where that one came from. Ginger cookies, associated with my dad, although my mom makes them, too. Funny how a lot of these are more savoury or bitter, rather than sweet.

Another comfort food, best in the winter, is biscuits and gravy. That definitely falls onto the more unhealthy side of the comfort food spectrum. This was a meal that my family never had at home, but the retreat centre that we went to every year and that I later worked at would do biscuits and gravy as one of their breakfasts. Actually, when I worked there and was on breakfast duty, that was one of the meals I helped make. So once in a long while, we get some sausage, make the gravy, and bake biscuits. I haven't done that in ages (probably a year or two), and it sounds rather good right now, but it's probably best made after the baby's out, so I don't have to try to figure out the carb content of the gravy plus the biscuits.

However, a biscuit-centred comfort food that I am going to make, today, is tomato soup with biscuits. I'll toss in some whole-wheat flour to up the fibre content of the biscuits, and skip doing the tomato soup with milk like I usually do (we're almost out, anyway, and my back doesn't want me to lug home a four-litre right now). This was a family dinner when I was a kid, and it's special to me because biscuits were one of the first things I learned to bake on my own. After that, whenever we had tomato soup for dinner, I'd make the biscuits. I had the recipe memorized for a while, though I don't right now. I'm doing buttermilk biscuits this time because I'm also making chocolate buttermilk muffins to freeze so we'll have them after the baby's born. We don't have a deep-freeze, so I can't pre-make a bunch of things, but we do have room for a batch or two of muffins. They aren't exactly comfort food, but they are convenient and hopefully tasty (new recipe).

Anyone have some interesting comfort foods, or ones with great backstories?

01 August 2013

Liminal

It's this feeling of waiting without any real knowledge of when the next change is coming.

I struggle with focusing. With sleeping. With making plans that may have to be cancelled at a moment's notice. We're about to tip over the edge into an entirely new adventure, and I don't know when or how it will happen. I can't plan for this more than we already have.

I dislike uncertainty.

Uncertainty is hard to live with, and it is inescapable. I can't live a life without it, yet I am always in tension with the principle of unpredictability.

I keep wondering how it's going to start. Will it be like the false labour I experienced a couple Saturdays ago, when I woke up with contractions so painful that I couldn't breathe deeply until I'd been standing under the hot water in the shower for at least five minutes, and then it really got easier to handle once I threw up from the pain? Or will it be slower than that, more like the milder contractions I've been experiencing for the last two weeks, but building in intensity? Will the contractions regularize like the books say they do? Will my water break earlier or later? Will I even realize I'm in labour at first? Will I keep getting these preliminary contractions, this false labour (or pre-labour, which is what the book the clinic gave me calls it), for weeks and end up being overdue? Or are all these little pre-labour signs happening now to get me ready and I'll end up going into proper labour in a day or two? I'm already hoping for the latter, because I'm tired of waiting, tired of aching constantly with no apparent progress being made.

I sit here, typing, my back aching, wondering. I've been pondering what labour might look like for me since I found out I was pregnant, although I put most of my concerns about that to the back of my mind. It was more important to deal with what was at hand then, which was the constant vomiting. Now the vomiting's mostly subsided, and my back hurts and there are twinges happening at the top of my uterus, or the base of my uterus (or both at once), and every once in a while, the baby rolls over, kicks me in the side or in the ribs, and seems to settle her head ever more deeply against my bladder.

There's also not knowing where and when this is going to happen. Will I be at home when the real labour starts? The grocery store? What about during church on Sunday, or knitting group Monday nights? Will it be the morning, evening, or afternoon? The middle of the night? Will I be able to wait for J. to get home from work at the normal time, or will I have to call him, tell him to come home, and then call my back-up ride to get me to the hospital?

The waiting is strange and a bit surreal. It's the first of August, and we're less than 3 weeks out from my official due date, but realistically, the baby could decide that it's time tonight, or that it's time 4 weeks from now, or any time in between. J. has compared it to waiting for Christmas to arrive when you're in grade school. I pointed out that at least with Christmas, there's a set date, but he countered with the response that, for most kids of seven or eight, their perception of the passage of time doesn't really make that fixed day seem to arrive any faster. For me, all I know is that sometime during this month, I will give birth to a baby.

This is a bizarre idea. Ever since December, we've been getting ready for this, and it still doesn't seem like it will really happen. I mean, seriously, a baby is going to emerge from my cervix? Are you kidding? I've seen this kid on the ultrasound (and since they've had to double-check the baby's growth rate because she's on the smaller side, I've had four of those), and most of the time, I still can't quite believe that there's a tiny person inside of me. There's a small part of me that goes in to every pre-natal appointment expecting that they'll tell me there's been a mistake, and I'm not actually pregnant at all, but that there's something seriously wrong with me instead. And yet, every time, there's a heartbeat, there's the baby kicking, and this week, the confirmation that yes, the baby is still head-down.

There really is someone in there. And very soon, she'll want to come out.

23 July 2013

How to write a crappy book on childbirth, or, how to piss me off in six easy steps

I don't actually remember the title of this book, so I apologize for that. Some kind of guide to natural pregnancy and childbirth. I picked it up at the library yesterday out of curiosity (and because the Braxton Hicks contractions just keep getting more frequent, so part of me's wondering if Munchkin's thinking of making an appearance), and put it down in disgust, very tempted to take it to the librarian and demand they strike it from their catalogue. While I disagreed with some things in, say, Bradley's method of natural childbirth, his book's wacky ideas made me laugh. They didn't make me angry.

What was wrong with the book, you may ask?

1. The author had no medical credentials. Zero. Being a "natural childbirth advocate" is not the same as being a trained doula (here doulas have to be certified to practice--I think in the States it can vary), registered midwife, nurse, or OB-GYN. I'm sorry if you despise the culture of credentials, but there is a reason why I prefer to take medical advice from medical professionals. Even the doctor at the clinic who manages to make me angry and upset every time I talk to her makes me feel like she knows what she's doing when it comes to medical procedures (she's just bad at the empathy side of her job).

2. Right off the bat, the author ranted about pre-term labour and how bad it is for the baby and then listed a few things to hold it off (true, a full-term baby is preferable, but the causes of pre-term labour are complicated and many are not fully understood yet). This included reducing exercise dramatically in early and mid-pregnancy. Last time I checked, exercise was recommended--the body goes through many changes in pregnancy and not exercising is counter-intuitive. True, we pregnant women are supposed to avoid high-impact exercise (one book I read included sumo wrestling on the list of stuff to avoid), but not exercising at all, unless your doctor recommends it, seems like a bad idea. What happens when you get to having the baby and your stamina just isn't there because you didn't exercise at all?

3. She was so adamantly opposed to medical interventions during labour that she only listed the cons of various medications and treatments. I'd like to hear both sides, please. There are reasons why medical interventions are available. I'm also far more likely to respond positively to a balanced view.

4. There was a section in there about how ultrasounds are highly inaccurate and get most things wrong, which didn't seem to have much basis in fact. Ultrasounds, like any medical imaging technology, have a margin of error, but that doesn't mean they are a useless tool.

5. She was anti-vaccine. I'm sorry (actually, I'm really not, it's just a habit to apologize for everything here in Canada), but just because you think having measles would make my child less prone to eczema does not mean I'm going to not immunize my child. I think eczema is to be preferred to some of the more dangerous complications that can result from measles. Even chicken pox can have some nasty complications that are far more likely to occur than side effects from a vaccine.

6. Also, she had some anecdote in there about a woman whose doctor had recommended a C-section based on a previous labour and the size of her pelvis. The author said that this person should have a natural birth because C-sections are to be avoided as much as possible, because it's just ridiculous that the baby might not fit through her pelvis. Who is she to say that this is ridiculous? I may be planning to avoid a C-section if I can, but I'm glad that the option is there if it's needed. And who knows? I might need it. It might be the safer route. If so, that's okay. It's not what I would have preferred, but the scenario that gets me and the baby safely through labour and delivery is the one I want.

At any rate, I slammed the book shut and did not bring it home with me. The overall tone made me too angry to be able to read between the crappy stuff to see if there was anything decent in there. I mentioned the book to J. yesterday evening and he was still pissed off about it this morning. After experiencing near-constant Braxton Hicks contractions for a few days, together with a couple not-so-delightful rounds of pre-labour (or possibly false labour--different books use different names--the guide I was given at the hospital calls it pre-labour), I've had to come to terms with the possibility that my child might arrive a couple weeks sooner than I was hoping. Or not. She might decide that random contractions are awesome (she certainly moves around enough after them) and it'd be a great idea to stay in there until after her due date. It wasn't a good time to read a rant about pre-term labour when, at 36 weeks, me giving birth would technically be considered pre-term.

I guess the worst thing about the book for me was that it felt like it was calculated to induce guilt in the reader, and to create distrust between the doctor and their pregnant patients. Yes, there are poor doctors out there (in the pejorative sense, not the financial sense, though I suppose there are those, too), but assuming that your doctor's an idiot from the get-go is probably going to be counter-productive. And really, do pregnant women need to be guilt-tripped? We're stressed out enough as it is.

19 July 2013

a brief discourse on bras and some sewing

Well, the "making a new dress to wear to the wedding" didn't work out. I got it to a trying-on stage, tried it on, and realized it wasn't going to fit around the baby. If I'd been working with jersey knit, this wouldn't have been a problem, but woven fabric just doesn't have the same kind of stretch. So I went to the closet and found a dress in jersey that still fits me right now. It's chocolate brown and I like it very much (there may be pictures in a day or two, since J. wants to bring our fancy camera along tomorrow), but because I don't own a regular strapless bra (I do own a longline strapless bra, which isn't an option right now--it's not unlike a corset and babies and corsets just don't go together, despite what the fashions of the 1890s had to say about that), I have to go braless. Fortunately the bodice has some kind of reinforcing so I don't have to worry about making people too uncomfortable.

I'm going to be breastfeeding in about a month, so I'll probably be more comfortable leaving my bra off in about six weeks, but as of right now, this isn't something I do often (except at home, either alone or when J. is around, but never around other people). Hopefully I can refrain from adjusting things and drawing too much attention to myself tomorrow. I doubt I'll be the kind of breastfeeding mother who happily breastfeeds in public without covering up. In private, yes. In public, well, I've got a couple fancy cover-ups that were given to me, and we have so many baby blankets it's absurd. There are two mounds of baby blankets in the spare room right now.

I have managed to find some knit fabric that I can experiment with. That shirt pattern I picked up last week has a number of variations. I think I'm going with the short-sleeved scoop neck to start. Four pattern pieces, so only half a dozen seams and four hems to contend with. I'm still a little leery of knit fabric because I don't have a serger, but the only way to deal with this fear is to actually grit my teeth and give it a go. Plus it'll check off the "sewing with knits" goal.

In the meantime, I need to go to bed. It's only just past 9:30 and it's a Friday night, but I'm exhausted, which seems to be typical at this stage of pregnancy. Eight months. Tomorrow is officially one month out from my due date.

17 July 2013

Checking Off: Socks

 Now that I have a to-do list of crafty things on this blog (see that page next to my designs page), I thought it might be fun to do the occasional post on one of the techniques or materials. This may turn into tutorials for some things, but not for others. For today, I'm picking something that I've already done, but in the future, I will use this as an excuse to check some items off the list. Today, let's talk socks.

I love socks. I loved brightly coloured, interesting socks well before I became a knitter, so I knit a couple pairs of socks in my first year of being a knitter. Then I knit many more pairs. Obsessively. I'm on a quest to replace all my store-bought socks with hand-knit ones. My Ravelry library has over 300 sock patterns in it, and I currently own 4 books dedicated to sock knitting.

Socks can be as simple or as complex as the knitter prefers. They can be worked toe-up, cuff-down, or started somewhere in the middle (haven't tried that kind yet, but I will at some point). There are numerous ways to do the heels and toes. It's hard to get bored with something that is so simple and ordinary, yet has so many permutations that it's impossible to try them all.

I have a fondness for intricate sock patterns. One of my current sock projects is Hunter Hammersen's "Khotan" pattern from her book, Silk Road Socks. It's interesting and lacy and I love it. I'm using a nice yarn for these socks that's a mostly solid colour, because otherwise the stitch pattern will get lost. I love good solid and semi-solid colourways when I'm knitting the more complex socks.

But simple socks are also a favourite. They're much faster to knit, and they require less thought when being carried around in my purse because I don't have to bring a pattern to consult (although very, very simple pattern repeats don't usually require a pattern copy once I've knit through them a couple times). I'm knitting a simple pair of baby socks right now for my cousin's daughter. The only weird thing about these ones is that they're so small that it feels a little awkward to work them. These are perfect for self-striping sock yarns. There's the obligatory pink in the colourway, and it's pastel-ish, so it looks appropriately girly (my cousin doesn't seem to be too insistent on pink everything, so these look girly without being over the top).


Socks aren't for every knitter. For some, the thought of tiny needles and fine yarn puts them off. For others, they just aren't interested. For some of us, though, they become a favourite project, and we end up with many balls of sock yarn in our stashes (I've even heard it said, I believe by the Yarn Harlot, that sock yarn "doesn't count" as stash). We can justify this by pointing out all the shawl and mitt patterns that can be made with sock yarn--our sock yarn stashes don't have to be exclusively for socks.

But this is about socks. I think I'd better go cast on the second baby sock.

12 July 2013

strangers try to determine the baby's gender by the shape of my stomach

I wandered into a local thrift store yesterday that always seems to be having a major sale (50% off!) and ending up spending 50 cents total on two sewing patterns. I also had a conversation with two of the volunteers about the baby, wherein I got to hear what I'm pretty sure the medical community classifies as "rubbish" about how to determine gender.

First I got the, "How far along are you?" question, followed by the, "Wow, you're small" comment. Yes, I know. I'm small, the baby's small, I'm not gaining weight like the chart says I'm supposed to, but I'm eating something like half a dozen times a day, not unlike a hobbit (elevenses, anyone?).

Then they asked if I knew what it was, I said a girl, and one of them proceeded to tell me about how her daughter was supposed to have a girl, she'd had several ultrasounds, all telling them it was a girl, and it turned out a boy. Then they told me that I'm carrying like it's a boy because my stomach looks like I've swallowed a football (American) rather than a basketball, like some women do. Then they asked what the heartrate was. I certainly don't remember; I just know that the doctor's happy with it. Apparently a faster heartrate equals a boy, and a slower heartrate equals a girl.

These methods sound a bit better than the old dangling the wedding ring on a string above the stomach trick, but I'm fairly sure they don't mean much. My guess is that the way I'm carrying has more to do with my body type and build than with the baby's gender, for example. I'm still fairly certain that the ultrasound, and the subsequent one, were correct. As we didn't need an amniocentesis or anything like that, we can't be 100% certain until she's out of me, but that's okay.

But those sewing patterns look like they'll be useful. Neither has been used--the pattern pieces aren't cut out and the instructions don't appear to have been unfolded. Both are from Simplicity. The dress is Simplicity 2889 and the shirt is Simplicity 4076. I'm thinking of making the dress next week, actually, for a wedding we're attending next Saturday. The gathers beneath the bodice should make the dress fit over my stomach. It's not the best-written pattern in the world, but it's a fairly simple construction.

The shirt pattern is part of my quest to learn to sew with knit fabrics without fear. I like most of the style options. The pattern is, again, a little more poorly-written than I would prefer, but the patterns aren't too complex, so I should be able to muddle through. We'll see how it goes.

11 July 2013

that look

I'm pretty sure I got "the look" yesterday. The one where you can tell that someone is judging you. The one I try really hard not to give other people. I've gotten variations of it since I became more visibly pregnant, usually the, "Is she pregnant or just fat?" one. That one I don't mind so much. This one, though, I did.

I was walking through the grocery store parking lot, and an older gentleman gave me an askance look. The one that said, "You're much too young to be pregnant and that's bad." I didn't see a glance at my hand, but since I'm not wearing my wedding ring right now (my fingers tend to swell a bit in the hot weather), that wouldn't have told him much. He might have assumed that I'm unmarried and judged me even more.

I'm aware that because I am short and young-looking, people sometimes think I'm much younger than I actually am. Back in September (or maybe it was October), a guy in line behind me at the liquor store accused me of being seventeen. I sighed and pointed out that I was twenty-five. I had one person blurt out, "Were you a child bride?" when I mentioned that J.'s and my fifth anniversary was coming up this year. Yes, we got married young, but not that young. Honestly, I think most of the time it's the height. I'm so short that people think I'm still a teenager, even though I don't act like one.

A few weeks ago, I ended up chatting with another woman at the maternity clinic. We have a shared dislike of one of the doctors at the practice and do our best to avoid her--me because she gave me crap about my mental health and stress levels and then proceeded to stress me out at each subsequent appointment I had with her, and this other woman because the doctor gave her crap at her first appointment because she'd had a baby at fifteen (although given that she was in for her second pregnancy five years later, is really none of the doctor's business). I was surprised because she didn't look that young to me. I suppose parenthood helps with maturity levels to an extent, but from this, I reinforced my belief that age doesn't necessarily equal maturity or lack thereof. I've met teenagers with more maturity than forty-year-olds, for instance.

It's true that my demographic--North American, white, college-educated, female--tends to put off having children until late twenties or into their thirties. Or at least that seems to be the trend for a lot of people these days. I've already screwed with those statistics by getting married young, and having a kid in my mid-twenties, though not too far out of the ordinary, is still messing with the stats a bit. I'm okay with that. I didn't want to be having kids in my thirties if I could help it, and even though we'd been thinking a year or two in the future for having children rather than right now, we're at a transition time, with me finishing school, that makes it easier to jump into parenthood because we knew things would be changing anyway. Neither of us is terribly interested in many of the typical 20-something activities. J. has an entertaining friend who is really in to the party scene, and while his stories are funny, they aren't something we want for ourselves. The last time we went to a loud party that had lots of alcohol and pot, neither of us drank or smoked. We left early because it was loud and boring and we were tired.

I haven't run into much judgement for being young-ish and heading towards being a parent, so it confuses me a bit when I do. There are times when I feel much too young to be having a baby, but that's about where my head is that day, not about whether or not I'm actually capable of this. I'm glad that this person didn't bother to talk to me. I could have corrected his assumptions, but it's too hot and I'm too exhausted to be getting into arguments with complete strangers.