Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nerdy, Nerdier, Nerdiest?

The Mister: I wonder if the pattern of Dianthus's hair is a fibonacci series.

My colleague (upon learning that the Mister had said this): well, it shouldn't be that hard to figure out the molecular angles in the amino acid.
Me: But it's not just the kinking of the disulfide bonds in the keratin of the hairs, it would also be the cell cleavage in the formation of the scalp.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bean Boy Rising

Before I met the Mister, he had informed me that he was working on perfecting the preparation of gallo pinto, a Costa Rican beans and rice dish. This thrilled me, "Here," I thought, "is a man who can really cook and is into legumes: I think I am smitten."*
Imagine my disappointment when I learned that he used his diswasher only for storage, the meals he did prepare consisted of a piece of meat grilled on the George Foreman, and the tamale cookbook he had on the counter was apparently just for show.** On our first date we ate at a new Thai restaurant and he never once mentioned the spicing on his seven spice fish curry or asked me about my panang. The Mister ate pinto gallo while in Costa Rica and garden green beans when he visited his parents and didn't think about them otherwise. The Mister was not a good cook and didn't give a hill of beans about bean hills.

How much has changed.

In the six plus years I've known the Mister, the greatest transformation I've seen in him is becoming a great daddy. This transformation, however, is mostly just one of opportunity. Nobody who knows the Mister is surprised he's a great daddy, but before the arrival of Dianthus, great daddy-ness remained dormant. The second greatest transformation I've witnessed (or second third and fourth, depending on how you count) is to becoming a really good cook, a crazy foodie and an intense gardener.

This transformation came about gradually. By the third date we were discussing the food (Malaysian) and watching a charming Japanese food movie (Tampopo, highly recommended) and somewhere during the first six weeks of dating (before I left for summer field work in Montana) I taught the Mister that sauteing the onions before adding the other omelette ingredients makes all the difference. He credits me for bringing about the onion change which somehow led to cooking all sorts of wondrous things, most of which involve the fragrance of sauteing onions when one walks in the door. These days, he cooks more often than I do.

He'd probably object to the term "foodie" as it implies some sort of snobbery (as do "gourmet" and "gourmand"), but the Mister now cares about food. He talks about it, he plans around it, he'll analyze it in his spare time. Since I have always been like this***, I'm not sure I noticed at first. Sure, we agreed that nice meals were a good use of money. Yes, the Mister started reading cookbooks and buying ducks to roast. And, yes, he purchased Where to Eat in Canada before the Canadian Maritimes trip so that we could plan what amounted to a culinary tourism vacation properly, but somehow I didn't really realize until this summer.

Travelling from Como to Rome in May we bought separate train tickets Como to Bologna and Bologna to Rome so that we could eat lunch in Bologna at a restaurant we chose after consulting three books and two websites. The Mister purchased Anthony Bourdain's Nasty Bits at full price for light summer reading and started a new list of places for us to eat in New York City when someday we go. For our anniversary in July, we spent the weekend in Pittsburgh. The Mister not only made reservations for a fabulous six course tasting menu at a nice restaurant, but also consulted several websites to find out where we could stop for Thai food on the drive there and back. While we ended up eating at Olive Garden going and Long John Silver's coming back, it was not for lack of trying on his part, which is when I decided that I needed to write an anniversary post about how very well suited the Mister is for me.

Of course, Dianthus arrived soon thereafter, so this post has been lurking in my brain unwritten. It is now a birthday post for the Mister. And Dianthus is demanding attention at the moment, so the parts about the Mister being a great gardener and bean cook will still go unwritten (but notice the great bean structure he made in the vegetable garden he created and cultivated).

In any case, please wish the Mister a happy birthday**** and know that I know I'm lucky.

*Okay, the legumes weren't a particularly big deal at the time and it wasn't just his professed cooking ability that smote me so quickly.
**I just found this out a month ago. While I had wondered why meeting me made him stop making tamales from scratch, it never occured to me that a man with a tamale cookbook and masa on his counter hadn't actually ever made them. I am such a sucker for a well-placed ethnic cookbook.

***Always implies an awfully long time, but before you accuse me of hyperbole, know that you are reading the blog of someone who can still list most of the meals she ate on a vacation in 1981, wrote her big eighth grade investigative "I-search" on cheese tasting, and checked out The Magic of Herbs from her elementary school library over ten times.

****Birthdays are major celebrations in my family and very minor celebrations in the Mister's. I'm trying to change his thinking on this as well. It has, thus far, not worked as well as sauteing onions, but I have considerably fewer opportunities to exert my influence.
The image is of the Mister and William playing "wheeee" which they both enjoy and which makes me melt every time I see it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

For Dianthus from the Dandelion

Back at the end of March, my dear Kansas friends (many of whom no longer live in Kansas), threw me a surprise baby shower while I was in town. They gave me a gift certificate to The Blue Dandelion, a downtown Lawrence baby store, the kind of store that sells organic cotton sleepers on sturdy wooden hangers, all-terrain strollers more expensive than BOB and Scandinavian design high chairs. In short, it is the kind of store that I love but would never consider actually buying something at unless I had a compelling reason. Thanks to my friends for giving me a compelling reason. With that gift certificate reasons, I bought:
The Bummis set of unbleached cotton cloth diapers and the accompanying flushable liners and cute "whisper wraps"
A super-soft duckie sheet
A sleeper with a chipmunk
A sleeper with turtles
Six pairs of monkey socks and
Two wash clothes

All are made of organic cotton. More on the usefulness of all this later, for now, a big thank you to those great friends.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Boys are also brave": Books About Nursing

"Boys are little men comprised of complex qualities like love, learning, laughter, and most of all, life!" If this statement from page 144 of the Better Homes and Gardens Baby Book (1969) seems a little vague, we can read specifics on the next page. "Boys find laughter and excitement in the simplest things; a birthday balloon bouncing in the summer breeze . . .", "Boys are also brave. They can pick up worms and thread them on hooks . . . If mothers were as brave as their sons, a boy's room would be a small private zoo." "Boys believe it is better to give than to receive. . . " "Being mechanical is just part of being a boy. If it's possible, boys are constructive and destructive both at the same time. They delight in tearing something apart to see what makes it work. In the process of re-assembling the thing, there are always spare parts-- but then this happens with Daddy too."

All of this information is critically useful in helping me to raise a son. The text on girls, meanwhile, is relatively scanty, but if I had a daughter I'm sure the photos captioned, "I wish I had a birthday once a week," and, "See Kitty, now I look just as pretty as Mommy," (pg. 173) would be equally useful.

Note: more generally interesting post about books I've read while nursing below.

One must assume that one can pick out useless (or worse) advice from modern parenting books just as easily as one can pick it out from older ones. That's part of the reason that I'm sure good mothers Irene and Ad Astra are correct that parenting is about what feels right and works with one's child rather than what's stated in a book. However, there are a heck-of-a-lot of details about which one has no intuition (if breastfeeding is not instinctual, the appropriateness of changes in poop frequency would hardly be) and it is really nice to have an authoritative book to consult. And another when one doesn't like the advice given in the first. And perhaps another in case the first two are wrong.

I have the second edition of Heidi Murkoff's What to Expect The First Year. It is easy to read and non-judgemental, but the month-by-month format doesn't work as well for parenting as it does for pregnancy. Would one necessarily think to look under the third month for diaper rash or the fourth month for wriggling during changing? Still, overall it is recommended, as is the handy, Your Baby's First Year issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This 4" x 7" paperback has the advantage of being small enough to thumb through while nursing. While What to Expect is written to sound like one is chatting with a friend (who happens to have consulted a bunch of pediatric literature), Your Baby's First Year is considerably more authoritative (I particularly like little boxed "Where We Stand" features that inform the reader that the AAP officially supports breastfeeding and car seats and officially opposes cigarettes and fire arms near babies). The organization of Your Baby's is just as awkward as What to Expect, with a similar hybrid of whole chapters on feeding or safety interspersed with chapters on month by month development which contain boxed essays on particular feeding or safety issues. Fortunately, the index is good.

I ordered The Nursing Mother's Companion by Kathleen Huggins during Dianthus's first week when I could learn from the previous books that breast feeding was not going well and that this was not uncommon, but not how to resolve the problem. At the time, the arrival of The Nursing just made me cry more. The book contains specifics about what I was doing wrong and some guidelines for correcting the problems and Dianthus and I still couldn't make it work. Despite that, I really like the book and highly recommend women who are considering breastfeeding (especially those that don't have breastfeeding classes and are over a hundred miles from a certified lactation consultant) read at least the first few chapters before giving birth or buying breastfeeding supplies.

From my mother I also own the aforementioned Better Homes and Gardens Baby Book, which is not as useless as the quotes I picked out suggest, and The New Revised and Enlarged Edition of Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care (first published in 1948, revised and enlarged in 1968). I haven't read much of either, but both are useful as reminders about how things change (e.g. Dr. Spock thinks that a baby should sleep in a 60 degree room), as support for any methods I like that are contrary to current thought (e.g. Dr. Spock thinks that three hours outside is vital) and for corroboration (methods recommended for sixty years carry more weight).
Images of Dianthus included because he is better looking than these book covers. Note that these images are both about two weeks old; he has much less hair now.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Books While Nursing

The range of suggestions for what I should read while feeding Dianthus has been vast, from happy stories (nothing too scary or dramatic), to Lonesome Dove (long, easy and compelling) to fantasy adventure (dramatic enough to keep one awake). My mother and sister-in-law both brought me books and my general to-be-read list has grown. While I have read a fairly wide range, I have found that I don't read in the middle of the night, rather I look at the patterns on the quilt hanging on the wall. My major limiting factor in selecting the following was format (they are all paperbacks that I didn't mind bending in odd ways as I tried to turn pages with one hand or keep my place while burping Dianthus), but, with the exception of Strangers in the Mist, none is exactly the right size the way that the Pyrdain Chronicles are. In the order I read them:

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder was given to me by my mother. She had been told to read it by my brother and sister-in-law, as had I, but given my family's history of not reading what family members recommend, neither she nor I had read it. Mountains Beyond Mountains is a non-fiction account of a crazy American doctor (Paul Farmer) starting and running a health clinic in the poorest part of Haiti (and TB programs in Peru and Russia) while working in infectious disease at Harvard. In many respects Mountains is comparable to Three Cups of Tea (my review here) as a book length account of an American giving it all to a somewhat unlikely cause. Mountains does not have the exotic setting of the Himalayas that Three did; Haiti is portrayed vividly, but as desolate and very very poor; nor the timely factor; while there should perhaps be some political involvement in Haiti, Haiti is not newsworthy the way that Pakistan and Afghanistan are, but altogether I found the book more enjoyable (I admit that my affection for Three diminished somewhat following raych's scathing review. I hate to be that feeble in my opinion, for I stand by my assessment that it is an extraordinary book, but some of the faults that raych points out are real). I think, in the end, that Mountains is more enjoyable because Farmer is a nicer guy than Mortenson and, more importantly, because Kidder is a more sympathetic character than Oliver Relin. I have spent the summer pondering* why I like books with sympathetic characters so I can explain it to Amateur Reader, but I have failed. None the less, Kidder is sympathetic; he lets himself become a character in Mountains and raises questions that readers have. Farmer is fascinating, but almost non-human in both sustained zeal and physical stamina. While following Farmer around, Kidder is frequently in awe, but is also both gleeful and guilty when he finds flaws. Kidder's hang-overs and exhaustion help transform a listing of noble deeds into an enjoyable read. Highly recommended for my mother and most of my friends, and imperative for SalSis if she has not already read it.

Simon Van Booy's collection of five stories, Love Begins in Winter, was also given to me by my mother. I reluctantly came to really like it. The stories have issues. I felt the whole time that Van Booy was trying too hard. Too many attempts at “deep”, too many childhood tragedies haunting adults, too self-consciously obtuse. Yet, overall, I found I really enjoyed the collection of five love stories, particularly the last three and give the collection a mild recommendation.

I purchased Katherine by Anya Seton because I was looking for something along the lines of Phillipa Gregory (since I have never read any Gregory, it is a reasonable question why I didn't just buy it). I did not realize that Seton wrote “the classic love story of medieval England” in 1954, making it much less steamy (smutty?) than the modern Gregory novels and, at 500 densely packed pages, a hefty bit of history to read. I first attempted Katherine while in the hospital waiting for Dianthus to emerge and found it to heavy to deal with IV lines. The book was almost too heavy to read while nursing (physically), but I prevailed and am very glad I did. Like other good historical fiction, Katherine made me feel ignorant (“Why don't I know who the Plantagenets are?) and question little historical asides (“Was Chaucer really the brother-in-law of John of Gaunt?” “Was Richard II really such a twit?”). Seton does a commendable job of taking a long historical saga, the affair of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, and crafting it into a credible personal story. The genre is not for everybody, but if you enjoy this sort of thing (I imagine Beth, Jenny and Sunflower Spinner would), Katherine is a good example.

Stranger in the Mist by Lee Karr is a Silhouette Shadows book. The last of my trashy romance collection from my library book sale days, Stranger is the type of book I wouldn't have bought if series romances weren't selling for $1 a bag (a price that always led to indiscriminate gathering), because the Shadows line is supposed to “send shivers up your spine and chill you even while it thrills you”. I don't enjoy being scared and, over time, have become the most malleable of audience members. Play sappy music and I cry, introduce nightmares and murderous pasts and I'm scared no matter how stupid and far-fetched the premise. Despite not being my type of book, Stranger is fine, and, if, for some reason, you want to read a typical Silhouette romance with sections that seem inspired by The Shining and Dead Again, by all means, read Stranger in the Mist.

Maria DermoĆ»t's lovely 1958 novel The Ten Thousand Things (translated from the Dutch by Hans Koning) was given to me at Christmas by my SIL among the fun, thoughtful books. The Ten Thousand Things is a connected series of stories concerning a garden on a small spice island in the Moluccas. At first I was somewhat dismissive of the book. The pacing is unusual, the transitions are odd, and a ghosts of young girls, or maybe not ghosts, appear in the first chapter. I'm drawn to magical realism in concept but not in actuality (I'm glad I read A Hundred Years of Solitude, but, like Marieke and unlike The Mister or MBIL, I'm not espousing its greatness to all), and I assume my initial reluctance was because soon I was going to be told that it was all carried away in a cloud of butterflies and I just wasn't ready to suspend disbelief that way. Fortunately for me, magic abounds in the book, but the only definitive magic is the magic of the island; while there may be ghosts and curses and love potions, only some of the characters believe in them, and the reader, like the main character, may choose alternative explanations. Plot-driven readers may feel that not much is happening, that most of the book is vivid description and an exotic atmosphere, and find themselves surprised, at the end, to have read of multiple murders and many passions. I'd recommend The Ten Thousand Things to Happy Cricket, both mothers, Amateur Reader for the “Indonesian Reading List” he'll surely make someday, and anyone traveling to Southeast Asia or the South Pacific.

Links and images to arrive when Dianthus does not need full attention, as he apparently does now. It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week, so I have linked to the three book blogs I read regularly: Wuthering Expectations (Mostly appreciation of 19th Century literature), books i done read (hilarious reviews of an eclectic mix of books), and Anthyrium filix-femina (an American gardener and writer now living in Scotland).

*when I haven't been doing other things like giving birth, feeding a baby, gardening, reading, trying to catch up with thank you notes and loads and loads of laundry.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Baby Products at One Month

I'm going to start endorsing products so that I can "monetize" this blog* and do it full time (a la or, more likely, because I have an outrageous number of pregnant and wanting to be pregnant friends and grandparents of the very young are probably my largest audience.

While I wander the streets of my small town, most comments I receive are that my baby is exceptionally cute (which is true) or scrawny (not true!). Beyond that, people envy the sling ("I wish they made those when I had kids"**) and Dianthus's stroller and tell me they didn't know I was pregnant (I clearly was).

The sling is a Balboa Baby from Target. The Mister and I both use it, and while it seems outrageously priced for a piece of cotton, two pieces of elastic and two plastic rings, I now think it is well worth the purchase price (thank you to my aunt and uncle who purchased it for us). Among other things, it can be used with a child under 8 pounds (unlike the Baby Bjorn, which we have not used yet), it is easy to load the baby in by oneself (a big difference from the Moby Wrap) and the Mister has a system of tucking in crying baby so that Dianthus can lie in the pouch contentedly sucking on a pacifier without losing it in frustration.

The stroller is a BOB revolution. BOB is a three wheeler (with air in the tires) off road or jogging stroller. The front wheel pivots and it has an incredible turning radius and handles beautifully. My parents had offered to buy Dianthus a stroller, and it felt like expensive overkill*** when I asked them for BOB (and the extra attachment that allows a small baby to use BOB by clicking in to his car seat), as I don't jog and don't have big plans for trail running. My town, however, is short on sidewalks and those that we do have are very crumbly. Dianthus and I have walked into the grass or gravel to avoid traffic on several occasions already. BOB is fabulous for here. Thanks to Mom and Dad for BOB.

Dianthus is awakening, and I've already written this post in four installments, so you'll have to wait for the next in this series for information on musical plastic, pacifiers, disposable diapers and the other things never planned to own.

*Blogger has a button for this on the dashboard and it makes my brother-in-law and me laugh.
**This makes me laugh, because the idea of strapping a baby to your waist with a cloth over a shoulder is probably as old as cloth. True, they weren't always available at Target, and if one used one in 1970 it would appear very ethnic or hippie, but the idea is not new.
***But given that there are $1000 strollers on the market, it's not so hard to justify $400 for a BOB.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Italian Beans III

Devoted readers of this blog have been relentless, "enough about the baby, what about the beans?" So I take this brief moment while The Mister has the baby, not to do something useful like take a shower or file medical paperwork, but rather to post photos of legumes in Italy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Are leprechauns lucky?

I've always thought of leprechauns as mischievous imps that could turn the lives of non-magical folk completely upside down. The Mister seems to think they confer luck upon those who find them.
In certain lights (that evade photography, of course*), I could swear that I'm living with a little leprechaun and that both of the above-mentioned fates have befallen me.

That a being I gave birth to might be a blue-eyed red head fascinates me. Statistically, I know I carry all sorts of strange traits-- but red hair and blue eyes? Who would have suspected it?
*Particularly when photographed by me while attached to me.