Self-Care

A light hike

Quite a year we’re having, hm? And just over a year since my last post. The lapse was unintentional, though not surprising. This has been the most tumultuous, stressful year I can recall.

As I began writing this, Little Bear (or T, I should say, now that babyhood is behind him) was passed out in exhaustion after his fourth stomach bug of the year. M and I were catching up on housework and wondering if 7:30 p.m. was too early to go to bed ourselves. Essentially, it was a fairly normal night for recent life.

We’re hardly new to adulthood, but so many challenges have coincided during the past year or so, we have reached a whole new level of mental, emotional, and even physical struggle. I realized I was starting to see self-care as a luxury, something to do after attending to my family, our home, our work, or even useless time wasting. I reject that now. I remind myself to prioritize efforts to keep the stress, frustration, and fatigue at tolerable levels. Here: some of the biggest hurdles and most helpful activities for me.

THE TRIALS

Little Batman

Parenting a threenager

If you’ve not heard the term, “threenager” refers to the fact that whoever coined the phrase “terrible twos” was just trolling parents. Two is a breeze. Three is parenting on Hard Mode. It is the grueling dress rehearsal for the teen years, and it is a constant struggle to stay centered and seek joy.

On the one hand, T’s increasing articulation, creativity, and physicality are a marvel to behold. He tells stories, loves to paint with watercolors, and climbs on everything. He can be delightfully insightful, funny, and sweet.

On the other hand, he is willful, heavily into independence, and often shockingly lacking in empathy. All of these are normal toddler traits, things he needs to adjust to on his own or by learning from our example. Reacting to them is a fantastic exercise in emotional growth, mindfulness, and resilience. But it is not easy. It would be difficult even if we were perfectly healthy and well-rested.

Sleep

We are not. Because my work schedule and M’s do not align, our family time most days is reduced to the dinner hour, and T reacts by trying to sleep in our bed at least once a night. I go to bed (but rarely sleep) after midnight, and I’m up with T just 6 or 7 hours later. Mornings are generally rough for all of us. This translates into diminished immune systems and fragile emotional control. Tempers flare more easily than they used to, and dealing with all of the other trials becomes more and more difficult. But for financial and mental reasons, it is important that I hold a job, too.

Work

When M was laid off, we agreed that we had to be ready to change, to keep our options as open as possible. He accepted an offered job in Oregon, so I quit my job in Massachusetts. I wasn’t worried about my future as a whole, and I was interested in the new avenues that might open. But I confess that, deep inside, I knew that I might be permanently leaving the career I’d been building, and I am still wrestling with that.

It may seem defeatist, but it is pragmatism that has me questioning whether I will ever be a librarian (let alone a rare books specialist) again. Though Portland doesn’t have a local library school churning out graduates, it also does not have New England’s density of repositories. Weeks go by before I see any posted job to which I could reasonably commute, let alone one that also fits my skills and goals. Even then, Portland is an Attraction. People want to move here or (if native) stay here. There are already plenty of qualified librarians on staff patiently waiting to move up the ranks. Hiring from within is the norm (so is using volunteers to accomplish much of the work). Breaking in from outside can be incredibly difficult, and sometimes I fear that it is impossible.

I am still exploring my options and generally enjoying the process. Right now, I am experimenting with the other side of the book world (i.e., selling), and it is fascinating. I will be happy continuing there, though I hope I can get a less punishing schedule soon. Really, the only big problem with my career at the moment is my lingering reluctance to leave the path I was on before. That reluctance creates uncertainty, and there is too much of that going around right now.

Current events

I have to refer to the endless, repellent United States election. I know I am not the only one feeling serious stress about this year’s surreal political situation. As I sit here typing, I feel physically cowed and slightly sick to my stomach. I am terrified of what our country could become and how people could be treated. I still feel occasional disbelief that we have come to this. But current events in general have been an onslaught.

The occupation of the Malheur reservation occurred a few months after we arrived. Despite being miles away, it produced a sense of uneasiness. We were new to Oregon and had no idea how the rest of the state would react. Would the armed anger spread? The relatively peaceful resolution was a relief. The recent verdict was not.

Brexit was a blow to this UK-ophile. It made it painfully obvious that not only is the UK not a viable dream home for our family, but the swelling tide of hatred, fear-mongering, and rejection of truth is depressingly global.

In my worst moments, I look at the world and feel utter despair. Where can you go? What is left? “What can men do against such reckless hate?” In these divisive times, what is honestly the point?

But I am not good at staying low. I’ve spent more time in the dumps this past year than during my life previously. But I float back up, even if now it takes an effort sometimes. That effort is worth it.

THE TREATMENTS

Giving in to Witcher 3

Meaningful distraction This has been more difficult than I’d like to admit. I am certainly prone to mindless Internet cruising, and it is remarkably easy to slip into when you’re exhausted, just want a minute to relax, and have a smartphone at hand. You would think that the luxury of being at home would make me dive into reading, crafts, and other hobbies. The desire is certainly there, but the discipline has been sorely lacking.

My favorite reads this autumn

Lately, though, that has been changing. I find myself reaching for my calligraphy pens, baking ingredients, or even the video game controller. Thanks to the Pacific Northwest climate, I am able to garden whenever I choose. At the very least, I can sit on the balcony and enjoy a cup of coffee and the sound of rain on the roof.

Autumn is red and green

Elevating sensory experiences is the small way that I currently explore mindfulness. I stop and do yoga or tai chi in the middle of the day, just to feel my body move. I spend a few minutes methodically making tea, watching the steam curl in the air, feeling it on my skin. I bury my face in my toddler’s mop of hair, nuzzle his (somehow always slightly sticky) cheek, let him clamber over me like I’m a jungle gym. Even shopping from the bulk bins at the grocery store has become an oddly soothing experience. Something about being closer to the beautiful reality of food, the possibility of what the components could become. Through handfuls of oats and azuki beans and flour, I reach for the reality that now seems warped, the possibilities that sometimes seem so distant.

Star Trek

The idea of possibility leads me, usually, to science fiction. In past times of political turmoil, I would find solace in that liberal stalwart, The West Wing. Not now. These days, I want true escapism, idealistic escapism. I want to be far from United States (or, frankly, most real world) politics. I want to think about the possibilities that could come with progress.

There is a line in, ironically, West Wing about raising the level of public debate in the country. With this election, we are down to debating whether the very foundations of democracy remain intact. Idealism is far away. We seem to just be hoping that most of us still belong to a common humanity. It is disheartening, disappointing, and not enough. I want to remember what we used to dream about, so I turn to Star Trek.

I never watched the Original Series, so I’m mainly talking about The Next Generation. Voyager was my childhood standby, but I find myself drawn now to Jean-Luc Picard and his crew. I marvel at their approach to the issues they encountered.

They prioritized diplomacy, curiosity, multiculturalism, and knowledge. They tackled problems with reason, thoughtful discussion, and careful experimentation (even when it made for boring TV). Sure, it had some notable flops (usually related to it being a TV show about advanced civilization in an industry that is often less than enlightened). But overall, I continue to be inspired by the vision of a future driven by exploration, diplomacy, and a firm acceptance of truth.

And on the lighter side, Worf always makes me laugh, and everything sounds better said by Patrick Stewart.

Choose kind

Watching words

I could write a whole series of posts about words. Words, their tone, the intention behind them, and their omission have been at the forefront of my mind. Following current events, moving to a new place and getting to know new people, accompanying a toddler through his early language acquisition: all of these have been major challenges and opportunities to think about how I use words and why. One big reason I haven’t posted on my blog is that I have been extremely hesitant about what (and whether) to say.

I have started myriad drafts. From current events to parenting, I started writing my reactions to many things (even those pseudo-Victorians). But I always hesitated, faltered, and wrote in my diary instead. I just couldn’t bring myself to add to (or detract from) any discourse.

That didn’t stop the words from coming. I delight in language, the way words fit together, the way they feel when you speak them, how they look on a page. So I kept scribbling or typing notes, collecting the words but corralling them. I finally signed up for NaNoWriMo just to give myself another place to put them. (Never mind that it’s eight days in, and I’ve written more words in this blog post than in my novel.)

Then there’s speech. Young T is at a critical juncture. He repeats the most horrifying slips made by me or M. He latches on to the worst lines in movies or TV shows or video games. He went through a phase where he called us “silly dumb” if we said something he thought was wrong. Of all the colorful and devastating insults slung into the conversation this year, a three-year-old’s sandbox taunt should provoke giggles. But you know what? It stung.

The words were mild. But the tone was, somehow, scornful. Whether he realized it or not, it conveyed disrespect. I have to assume he picked it up at daycare. M and I are not in the habit of insulting each other or our son. We worked very quickly to quash this development. We explained as best we could that words can hurt like fists, or more, since the damage can last far beyond what a bandage can heal. It took a few days, but that contemptuous tone left his voice and “silly dumb” faded away, replaced by “thank you” after almost everything.

I am proud of my son’s polite manners and increasing grasp of basic social courtesies. But I am after more than just preparing him to get through a dinner party. I am trying to cultivate in him a deep understanding of what these “word-actions” mean and how their impact can last. It sounds silly to emphasize manners when etiquette doesn’t even come up in the ongoing violent rhetoric. But I look at it as the beginning of the social contract.

My son interacts with a diverse group of little peers (which is pleasantly surprising in Portland). He doesn’t yet know that the differences between them are given meaning in some places and with some people. Before he becomes aware of that, I want him to have a concrete habit of approaching everyone with respect and civility. I want him to treat people as human beings, full stop, and choose words based on truth and compassion, not innuendo and stereotype. The thought of him using words to isolate, or manipulate, or bring harm to others makes me feel sick. The vicious power of language has been just overwhelming this year. I have to keep him clear.

Books about books shelfie

Practicality and productivity

When all else fails, when my head and heart hurt too much for reading or calligraphy or spinning stories, I reach for housework. We pick up the toys and put books back in order. I hand T the duster and sort the laundry and focus as best I can on the absolute basics. Scrub the plate. Rinse. Dry. Next.

Little by little, a sense of assurance grows. For the most part, I cannot control my son, my job prospects, or the bizarro state of the world right now. But I can damn well make sure the laundry is washed and folded and stored neatly in the drawer. That tiny bit of certainty helps keep me afloat on the wild river that is life these days.

These are the efforts that are (mostly) working for me in this year of trials. I hope that you are coping, too. What is bothering you? What is helping you through your troubles? I am always open to new ideas!

Productivity of Necessity, and a Recipe

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The past month has been a building whirlwind, though obviously not on the blogging front. I like this time of year, but man, it can be exhausting. This year, the buildup to the holidays has seemed coincidental to all the other things going on. That doesn’t make it all less crazy, though.

It also doesn’t negate the impact some recent illness has had on our growing to-do lists. I was just pondering my PTO accumulation, but apparently I tempted fate. An early-season daycare bug quickly swept to Little Bear and home, and I used up sick days in rapid succession.

The unforeseen upside to that, however, was that I suddenly became a productivity machine. I am not one of those people who claims to work best under pressure. The idea of cramming for tests or speed-writing papers still makes me cringe, years after school. But one thing I am good at is buckling down when I simply have no other choice. And so it has been recently (hence the blog-radio silence).

So what have we been up to?

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M carved pumpkins.

His m.o. since we moved to this place (okay, so just the last two Halloweens) has been to carve while handing out the candy. Since he telecommutes, he’s out on the porch promptly as trick-or-treat starts, so he multitasks until I get home with Little Bear. It’s turned into a fun little two-year tradition that I think we might just continue.

This year’s main pumpkin was, as you can see, Minecraft themed. This was a big hit, particularly with the kids dressed in similar style. I was bemused by the mother who suggested that we must have some Minecraft-loving kids. Some people really do feel that games are not for adults, I guess.

Kabuki faces

I went to work.

The last couple weeks have included sick time and holidays but also work events and tons of checked-off tasks. Our director retired last month, but he continues as director emeritus, and we hosted some of his fellow Grolier Club members during the recent antiquarian book fair. It’s always fun to show off collection highlights, and our guests, booklovers all, were appreciative and interesting.

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I’m especially enthusiastic about showing off materials lately, because I’ve been having a blast with our collections myself. I even finally finished a post for our library blog, and I’m planning my next draft. My current fascinations lean heavily toward book history and East Asia, so I’ve been hunting for great examples to support these themes. I took a little detour into Japanese maps, and I’m not sorry.

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I even dragged Little Bear into the fun. My office’s proximity to his doctor means that he gets to accompany me occasionally. Now that he’s toddling, he’ll be reshelving in no time. He’s growing so fast, he will certainly be tall enough!

Training

Embroidery ready

Outside of work, I happily headed home for some domestic bliss.

I have finally, finally reached the end of the hand-stitching the quilt I’m making for Little Bear. I don’t mean that to sound bitter. I actually prefer hand sewing to machine, and it’s been a nice meditative way to end nights. It has simply taken so much longer than I originally intended. Now I’m preparing to add a little decoration in the form of French knots, and I’m looking forward to learning a bit of embroidery.

Cooking shrimp and baby bok choy

Aside from that, and all the housekeeping catch-up, I’ve been in the kitchen. Cookies, pancakes, and chili rolled out as we got over our bugs, and then I finally made soba with shrimp. I’ve been planning a dish made of these two components for weeks, and I made it now because I find soba noodles very comforting. They remain so in this recipe.

Soba with Baby Bok Choy and Shrimp

Shrimp and baby bok choy on soba

I aimed for light but warm, bright and nourishing. I adore baby bok choy, and the shrimp revived my strength after days of on-and-off illness and fatigue. I’m getting more confident at improvising Japanese food, and I considered this meal a success. Note that the sauce measurements are approximated and adjust to your liking. I’m a big fan of the Japanese seasoning blend of shichimi togarashi, but red pepper flakes and toasted sesame seeds would add the spice and crunch, too.

  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1½ tablespoons minced ginger (I used ginger paste)
  • 1½ tablespoons crushed garlic
  • pinch of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 bundles of soba noodles
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, or more as needed
  • 2 pounds baby bok choy, trimmed, halved, washed, and dried
  • 1 pound shelled shrimp, tails removed (I used thawed precooked shrimp because it was on hand but prefer raw)
  • shichimi togarashi

Whisk together the rice vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar, and sesame oil. Taste and adjust as necessary, then whisk in the cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soba noodles and cook until al dente, just a few minutes. Pour into a colander to drain, rinsing a bit to separate if necessary.

Place a wok over medium heat. When hot, add the canola oil and the baby bok choy and toss. Cook, stirring frequently, until stems soften a little and leaves wilt. Add the shrimp and cook until barely opaque, stirring frequently. Add the sauce, stir, and cook until bok choy retain just a bit of crunch and sauce has thickened, stirring regularly.

Divide the noodles among four bowls and top evenly with the shrimp and bok choy (and plenty of sauce). Sprinkle with shichimi togarashi to taste. Pick up your chopsticks and enjoy.

Autumn, Suddenly

Fall flowers

Just like that, it’s cooler and crisper and obviously the season has changed. I love this time of year. The transitional times in general are my favorite. Typically, it’s right about now that the long, endless slog of hot summer days has me down, and cooler weather sweeps in to relieve me. This year, however, summer was surprisingly mild, and I actually enjoyed it. That means that not only am I excited by autumn, I’m still energized instead of drained by constant humidity.

Stacking is a pretty big deal these days

Perhaps that’s why I feel a bit restless and eager to tackle some work. I would love to say that means I’m throwing myself into big projects. But I am finding it more satisfying to chip away, little by little, at countless small tasks that have been nagging at me. And, in the midst of the fresh fall housekeeping, I’m swinging back into cooking.

Pizza with blue cheese, arugula, and pear raw

Pizza with arugula, pear, salami, and Brie raw

I have a difficult time with cooking in summer. It’s often too hot, and by the time I get home from work, I am not in the mood to stand and chop things for salads or other cool foods. Fall food is a different story. Fall food seduces me. I make long, lovely lists of produce I want to use and recipes I want to try.

Pizza with blue cheese, arugula, and pear baked

This one is an interpretation of a salad recipe I have stashed in my MacGourmet database. Don’t ask me why I utterly refused to consider making the actual salad. No, it had to be pizza, and boy, am I glad I stuck to that instinct. I kept the main flavor profile for the first pizza, then, why not, we traded in some leftover Brie and salami for the other. Both variations were something of an experiment, and both were good, but we preferred the first. It was a little less salty and a little more nuanced. Even the baby found it to be just the thing to fuel his rapidly-wrinkling brain.

Now if only Little Bear and I weren’t overcome with sniffles. My sinuses started creeping into cold-weather mode a week ago. I’ve had a constant grumpy headache ever since, and it is getting old. I’m so preoccupied with the expectation that a major cold is about to kick in that I cannot enjoy the fact that a major cold has not kicked in. Oh well. At least I can enjoy food like this pizza, or porridge, or chili, or any number of sweet things

Pizza with Blue Cheese, Arugula, and Pear

Inspired by Williams-Sonoma’s Harvest Salad with Blue Cheese and Roasted Pears

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons golden balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • all-purpose flour, for rolling
  • 2 balls of pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
  • honey, any varietal, to taste
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 4 cups baby arugula leaves, washed and spun dry
  • ½ pound whole-milk mozzarella, grated
  • 1 firm Bosc pear, cored and thinly sliced
  • ½ crumbled blue cheese

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Use a baking stone, or prepare a pizza pan the way you like it.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Roll out one ball of dough on a floured work surface. Brush with half the vinaigrette. Drizzle lightly with honey. Sprinkle with half the shallot and tarragon.

Scatter half the arugula over the dough evenly. Sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Spread half the pear slices on top. Sprinkle evenly with half the blue cheese. Bake on the stone or prepared pan for 12-15 minutes, until arugula is wilted and cheese and crust are golden brown. Repeat with the other half of ingredients. Serve immediately.

Brie, Salami, and Thyme Variation
Replace the golden balsamic with red wine vinegar. Replace the tarragon with thyme. Replace the blue cheese with Brie. Sprinkle with ¼ cup chopped salami or pancetta.

Pizza with arugula, pear, salami, and Brie baked

Quietly at home

Mother’s Day and the Weeks After

Quietly at homeOh, May. It seems you just arrived, and already you’re almost over. Time flies when you’re constantly under the weather.

My first Mother’s Day saw all three of us at home with a violent cold. Fevers were raging, and poor Little Bear had his second ear infection. It was a quiet, ragged-feeling day. We’d had big plans for some work around the house, but we barely managed one of the tasks before retreating to the couch. And that was fine. Sometimes, it’s better to give in.

After Sunday, things improved rapidly. I took LB to the doctor and we got him started on antibiotics. That was really all he needed. He consented to accompanying me to my office for a bit on Monday and Tuesday, where he explored the new environment and charmed my coworkers. I was relieved to catch up slightly with work. It amazes me when I consider the difference between last autumn and now. I deliberately took some of my maternity leave unpaid so that I could save my paid time off for what I assumed would be inevitable illnesses after Bear’s birth. Instead, I wound up having to use up all that time on long weekends before the fiscal year ended in January, and I had to start over from scratch when we really did need the sick time in 2014. I think I’ll finally be out of the hole on PTO sometime this summer. As long as we don’t get sick again.

If only I hadn't had to see this pretty tree at the doctor's office.I am confident that things are improving. The onset of spring (finally) has my energy up. After recovering from the cold (also finally), we managed to catch up a bit on our to-do list. We’ve also squeezed in a surprising amount of social interaction in the last two weekends. We visited M’s former roommates in Framingham. It was one last chat in the old duplex, which everyone will shortly be leaving. It was a bittersweet moment, but interesting. Everyone is off on new adventures.

Little Bear's first parade

This past weekend, we saw more family and friends. We spent Memorial Day in M’s hometown, watching the parade (LB’s first), enduring the gun salute (he was stoic), and enjoying some barbecue. It was relaxing, and the food was great. As with every meal these days, Bear had a taste of everything and wanted more. He has no idea what to do with that tiny new tooth, but he tries his damnedest. He crawls, he stands, he shouts, he sings, and he is desperate to add to his repertoire of skills. It is fascinating, frustrating, and, generally, funny as hell. He’s figured out so many new ways to express himself, and he is very obviously a tiny version of the person he will grow to become. It is incredible.

So our little family trundles on. Now that we’re all feeling better, we’re also feeling the urge to get outside. My fledgling garden is (so far) thriving. M mentions the beach daily. And, judging from his fascination with the grass yesterday, Little Bear would also like to commune with nature. We’ll have to make that happen. Housework can be fit in around the edges. Might as well enjoy the good weather now that we have it!

On the path in New Hampshire

Miscellany: Sick Days

January has not been particularly kind to our little family. It seems like the baby and I have spent more time at home than at daycare/work. I have worked just a single full week since early November! A month or so ago, I found the part-time thing relaxing. Now I am nearly crawling the walls with impatience and a slight anxiety about how far behind I am at work.

Well, I’m mentally impatient, anyway. Physically, I’m struggling through a horrifying cold to which I succumbed as the baby went through pneumonia. Thankfully, a hospital stay and plenty of TLC have him on the mend. It was not easy to see such a little lad hooked up to an IV and getting chest x-rays. But he was a trooper and it was all for the best. Now I just hope the recovery days I’ve had helped me. I badly want us all to be well for awhile.

The various illnesses and ailments of the last few weeks have subdued my usual monkey mind somewhat. I would characterize my recent desires as almost pathetic longings for spring that isn’t here and athletic pursuits I cannot manage just now and fresh produce I don’t have the energy to fix up for meals. The things on my mind are a little less ambitious, a bit more dreamy than usual.

Understandably, I’ve been thinking about wellness. One of the first things I miss when I’m ill is physical activity. Before the latest bout of illness, I’d been trying to reconcile my desire to finally resume workouts with my desire for sleep. (I truly do not know how to squeeze them in without getting up even earlier.) Now, however, I’m thinking of restorative activities. I used to do yoga every day. The associated inversions, however, conflict with my current congested state. How about tai chi? It’s been a long time since I did that regularly, and I’d love to advance to sword style

I also want to get a massage. I’ve never had one before, and I always figured I’d go for acupuncture. I do want to try that sometime, but I’ve been craving something more physical to work out the winter and baby-carrying kinks. I need to do some research, though; there are so many types.

Having spent a lot of time in sweats this week, it occurs to me that I need to freshen that part of my wardrobe. So, skinny sweats? Classic fleece? Super wide leg? Or go big with cashmere leggings?

Since all the sickness started, I’ve been sleeping on the futon in Little Bear’s room, both to watch him and to try to keep M from falling ill. Consequently, I am starting to fantasize about our bed (in a safe-for-work way, I promise). We need a new comforter, lighter because M gets warm. And why not some new sheets? Next time I get sick (and I’m sure there will be a next time sooner than I’d like), I want to have a better nest.

On a more spiritual plane, I have wanted to get a jizō figure for my child since before I had a child to whom to give it. I wasn’t raised in a saint-focused religion, but I like the idea. In Western traditions, I suppose it’s a continuation of pagan patron gods. I like correspondences. I like the way Jizō is typically represented in Japanese statuary. It projects a more earthly calm than a typical Buddha figure. I chose this one to watch over LB.

My reading of choice for the recent run of days home has been the blog Manger by Mimi Thorisson. Sometimes her life seems impossibly lush and beautiful. The style is more colorful and rich than I usually gravitate toward. Yet somehow, I have devoured the entire run in a matter of days, noting recipes to try, immersing myself in the stories of French life and food memories. It reminds me of Béatrice Peltre’s La Tartine Gourmande in the lyrical descriptions of growing up French and foodie. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t had the energy to cook much lately that I want to hear so much about others doing so. On a more materialistic note, the gorgeous photos of her gorgeous kids make me wish American children’s clothing designers took it as seriously as those in France. I get tired of the cartoon pictures and silly sayings. I don’t need my baby to wear a suit, but there must be middle ground between that and a onesie that says “I only cry when ugly people hold me”.

Finally, I’ve started to allow myself to think about spring. Right now, this means gardening. I’m thinking very ambitiously, but I know I will be hard-pressed to manage more than a couple of pots on the patio. I have rosemary and parsley over-wintering in a sunny kitchen window. I’d like to add a few more potential staples. I have a thing for atypical varieties. So French breakfast or daikon radishes. A French variety of squash. Yellow or purple carrots. And plenty of leafy greens. I love salad, but I dislike dealing with the store-bought produce.

Okay. I’m feeling a bit better. The light is certainly visible at the end of the sickly tunnel, anyway. Little Bear is chipper and giggly, and I think I’ll be that way soon. Well, maybe not the giggly part. That’s not really my style.

New toy

Bitter Watches

New toy

09 December 2013

The winter is bringing changes, and all of them are affecting our nights.

Our sweet son stopped sleeping through the night almost a month ago. He is on the cusp of sitting up, rolling over, teething, and eating solid foods, and that combination is a volatile one as far as affecting the normal routine. T wakes up between three and five times a night now, and it is unpleasant, to say the least.

During the day, the baby remains an absolute joy. He smiles and giggles, and he tries so hard to sit up. The rolling over is more of an offhand maneuver, but it will come soon enough. I fear that teething will not come soon, so it might be a couple more months of drooling and gumming on anything he can cram in his mouth. As far as solid food goes, I’m excited to start. I know he’s young, but he’s been increasingly hungry at daycare (which might explain why he wakes up at night to eat now), and I cannot pump any more than I already am. Maybe solid food will help.

24/25 December 2014

The middle of Little Bear’s first night away from home, and it’s… okay. He is restlessly dozing in my arms. I am slowly rocking my weight from hip to hip as I stand, awake from sheer determination. I’m glad that there will be plenty of other people to hold him Christmas Day, but I know that his eat-play-sleep routine will be hard-pressed by the overstimulation. The rest of the year may involve a lot of re-training.

11 January 2014

It is 01:46 in the morning. Little Bear has just fallen back asleep for the seventh time since being put to bed at 20:00. Considering that last night lasted only about five hours and that both LB and I are recovering from a week of illness, you can imagine that tonight’s restlessness is not serving me well. This is the latest in a string of “worst night yets”. I know I endured some terribly disrupted nights during leave, but somehow they had less impact on my psyche than these recent ones. I mean, it’s the weekend and I could nap whenever tomorrow, yet I am tearfully begging LB to please sleep for longer than an hour at a stretch. Because let’s face it, napping “whenever” really means only “whenever the baby also deigns to nap”.

In hindsight, I was probably setting myself up for this misery. He slept through the night by two months, and for the next six or seven weeks, nights were blissful. Most of that bliss was during leave, of course, but it did allow me to get some much-needed sleep for and during my first couple of weeks back at work. Once Little Bear started into his next growth spurt, this was all shot to hell. By the time it seemed like he was probably through the spurt and could be gently coaxed back to full nights, the holidays kicked in, and the effort seemed overwhelming. Since November, it’s been a veritable perfect storm of routine-wrecking circumstances.

I ended the year with enough PTO to luxuriate in a couple days off each week through December. At first, I thought this was great. After a couple of weeks, I realized that LB’s capacity to cope with variable waking times and vague daycare hours was not strong. With no firm routine, his nights remained off the rails, and every other week or so brought a new “worst night yet.” I started trying to standardize his mornings, despite my serious desire to sleep in when he’d let me. But Christmas, and his first overnight stay elsewhere, essentially blanked the slate.

The week after Christmas was my last hope. I had a five-day weekend culminating in New Year’s Day. If ever there was a time to risk sleep deprivation for the sake of future rest, this was it.

So we decided to transition him to his crib.

Why was this the priority? Honestly, it just felt right. There were a couple of particularly rough nights, and the Pack-and-Play just seemed like the bulky elephant in the room. As much as the night feedings were tiring, I had various reasons for maintaining them as the baby desired, and I’d adjusted to them (as long as LB stuck to a nice every-three-hours rhythm). So we decided to get him used to his crib as the gods intended it to function, as opposed to a temporary play pen.

This went pretty well. He cried less each night, and I managed to get to spend increasing portions of my nights in our bed instead of the futon in the nursery. I worked up to a full night of (albeit feeding-interrupted) pillow-top bliss. I prepared to go back to work and the five-day weeks that entailed. But Mother Nature had other plans, and I ended the week with two snow days instead.

We tried again the following Monday, only for LB to bring home a stomach bug from daycare. He was down with it Tuesday. I succumbed Wednesday (hey, how not fun is caring for a sick baby while you are also sick, huh?). We both recovered from the unpleasant symptoms, but Bear clung to his fever all week and couldn’t return to daycare.

Finally, he was ready. And boy, was I ready, too. I was finally free of my desire to stay home and be cozy and instead desperately desired the “solo” time work would bring. Thanks to a tip M found on Reddit (teething babies like an inclined mattress), the week got better and better, with LB going as long as five hours before waking.

16/17 January 2014

We move forward, we fall back.

He had such a good time this evening. He smiled and giggled and played with his toys and drank in the sight of his parents. He went to sleep a bit later but easily. And then he woke up roughly every twenty minutes for the next four hours. I don’t know how exactly he knows which nights are the absolute worst for me, but he’s a whiz at it. If I’m sleeping horribly, coming down with a cold, trying to shake an all-day headache, you can be sure that Little Bear has decided to sleep even worse than I.

There are times when I perform the dark-of-night dance in a fog of semi-consciousness, later wondering how I didn’t drop him. And there are times when I’m roused to alertness immediately, kept there for hours, cursing aloud in the dark, ostensibly to him but really to my own exhaustion. And, often, times when I get him to sleep finally, lay down, and feel guilty for being angry or upset, then climb back out of bed to touch his sweet fuzzy head, and reassure him (and myself) that I’ll be more tolerant next time. That despite the effects of sleep deprivation, I will rise above and be endlessly gentle and patient even as I slip further into exhaustion.

Since he cannot do the midnight feedings yet, M has taken upon himself more and more of the work around the house, cooking, tidying, following the routine. I am so grateful and overjoyed when I come home and only have to worry about feeding Bear and getting ready for bed. However, I find one of the worst consequences of these terrible nights is my increasing impatience to leave this age/stage behind, even though everyone tells me I’ll miss it so much. The responsibility for getting through the nights weighs on me. I wish that all of M’s hard work and support instantly mitigated the effect of the toughest sleep trials and gave me superhuman endurance. I wish these worst nights didn’t stretch before me as the loneliest moments.

18 January 2014

Here we are again.

This is unusual for Little Bear. Usually, his worst nights occur singly in between relatively good nights. For some reason, however, he is waking every hour or so. I am grateful that it’s at least not every ten minutes, but I am starting to develop a resentment of tucking myself back in after he goes back to sleep. What’s the point, when he’ll just wake again right when I drop off? Right now, it’s really just because I’m having trouble staying awake. Otherwise, I might go full insomniac rather than continually attempting truncated naps.

04:30, and M finally had to come take over. The baby has been awake for an hour and a half, which is really unusual. I am curled up in our bed for the first time in two weeks, and all I can think is that the library opens in five and a half hours, and I can pick up the baby sleep book I requested. I am determined to curb this (lack of) pattern.

20:10 and good friends are visiting. It’s wonderful to see them, but I’m prioritizing naps, so when LB shows signs, even as late as 6 p.m., I follow them. I figure he won’t sleep more than half an hour, then he’ll be up and playful and ready for a last feed and bedtime right on schedule.

Two hours have passed since I got him to sleep, curled up next to me on our bed. I’ve slept, too, which is probably the biggest reason I was reluctant to rouse him despite the time. I’m thinking of how messed up the night could be after this. But Little Bear shifts and raises his face toward mine, clutches my shirt in his hand, and sighs in his sleep. I let the rest of it go, accept the possible consequences, and revel in the knowledge that the only thing more beautiful than my son is his father.

These are the best and worst times. They are lonely and love-filled, desperate and determined. Each night seems unendurable, but each morning reminds me that I am more resilient than I previously knew. I am not foolish; the sleep deprivation cannot go on indefinitely, or nor will I be able to. But the baby learns, and he will adjust. As he mastered rolling, sitting, and eating mush from a spoon, he will figure out how to sleep as he once did. I have every confidence in the abilities of this tiny, growing being. Of course, I’ll be backing that up with sleep training, effective immediately.

Don’t worry, kid. You can do it. So can I.

Miscellany: Into Autumn

The season has decidedly changed, and my mind has shifted with it. Here are the new things I’m mulling.

The costs of daycare, both financial and familial. I love working, and I need it intellectually. But in what form? Maybe there are more options than I think. It is really difficult to leave Little Bear every day, partly because I spent so much of the last twelve weeks with him, and partly because I have a sort of fundamental issue with daycare. This stems from my own mother staying at home, but it’s surely almost impossible to look at a little baby and be okay with them spending more waking hours with strangers than with their own family. So I want some time apart for working, and I hate being apart. It’s complicated.

Fall foods are my favorites, and certain flavors embody that love. I’ll take honey any time, but combined with pumpkin, it’s perfect right now.

We’ve been catching up on The Legend of Korra, and I am enjoying it. I have minor beefs with both this series and its predecessor, but overall, it is such good entertainment. I like that the creators put serious thought into a kids’ show. I’m not hugely fond of the overly-similar-to-Book-1 political storyline they have going in Book 2, but I am looking forward to the spirit world thread.

Scandinavian things. Though I’m really only one-quarter Swedish, that ancestry has loomed large in my family’s collective psyche. Mostly that meant decorating with a few tomten at Christmas and enjoying rice pudding and attending family reunions with lots of blue-eyed, blond relatives. Increasingly for me, particularly as I explore genealogy, it means traditional foods, design, and way of living. This year, that means making lussekatter for the second time. And possibly (gasp!) attempting a trip to IKEA with the young lad. And happily hanging my beloved straw ornaments on the Christmas tree…

In keeping with my yearning for all things Nordic, I’m also feeling winter already. It seems I can never really enjoy a season. As soon as it starts, I start longing for the next one. This year, I want winter especially because these are a possibility.

This necklace from Madewell. I just can’t quite justify the cost. Come on, sale…

We’ve had a few gorgeously crisp, foggy autumn days lately, at least in the morning. Now it’s in the mid-70s, but I am still stuck on cool and rainy. Since our honeymoon, that weather evokes the memory of our visit to Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. We traipsed the length of the Royal Mile despite some gloomy skies, and it was great. We had lunch in the cafe there, and I especially remember drinking a Fentimans dandelion and burdock soda. After that, I tried Fentimans whenever I came across it. Now I really want to track some down here.

My new Fitbit One, courtesy of M. I really wanted a tracker for my return to work. So far, I’m doing about half my goal each day, with no extra effort. Now I need to find ways to add more steps, like taking the baby son for a walk. And hey, at least I’m not parked on the couch for hours anymore. Though I suspect I’ll start to miss the “lazy” sweatpants days of maternity leave soon…

I guess I run now…

Running and I have always had a complicated relationship. As a child, it was fun and mindless. I didn’t time it or count laps. I also didn’t do it a lot. My lungs are my weakest part, and wheezing often cut things short. As I got older and more involved in sports, I simultaneously felt silly with relief that I opted not to do track or cross-country, yet increasingly certain that running was a necessity for peak health. With several relatives who are suffering the consequences of a younger running habit, I know this is not the case. Running can be bad in several ways. And yet I’ve never shaken my indistinct sense that I should probably make a serious attempt to run a bit.

That brings us to lately. M saw a friend of ours posting on Twitter about a new running app she was trying, he downloaded it, and he mentioned it to me. I thought, good for you, love, but had zero intention of trying it myself. As I said, I don’t really run.

But when I came home out of sorts and irritated by a crowded commute last night, there was only one thing I wanted to do. And much to his surprise, M found himself with running shoes on, apps synchronized, heading for the reservoir. And we did a whole hour of the couch-to-10k workout. It may only be six total minutes of running, but that’s six minutes more than I’ve done in years. And you know what? It felt good.

We have a running date for Wednesday.