Thursday, July 31, 2008


The other day at the library, a lady who was hanging out in the kids' section near us suddenly became hysterical when she couldn't find her child. All of us immediately started looking for the boy, who was probably 9 months-ish. He was a proficient crawler, anyway.

The mom became increasingly frantic as we didn't find the boy, until one of the librarians came back a few minutes later with the baby in her arms. First, the mom embraced her child, said thank you, and then started crying. Then she asked, "Where was he?"

The librarian had found him on the third floor of the library. The children's section is in the basement. Judging from the short amount of time the baby was actually missing, we think he must have gotten on the elevator somehow. Though this raises more questions than it answers, since he obviously couldn't reach the buttons himself, and what kind of adult gets on/off the elevator with an unaccompanied 9-month-old and doesn't think twice?

I've never lost track of Miriam for that long, though there are always moments - terrible moments - when we lose sight of her for a few moments and it's almost as if your heart stops until you find her again.

But when I was a kid, I got good and lost for a decent period of time. In the woods, no less. It's one of my earlier, more dramatic memories, and what's kind of fun about it is that I've never really heard the whole story of what happened from my parents. So the way I tell the story, it still has all those nonsensical kid elements that may or may not be how things actually transpired.

I was probably around five years old, though it's possible that I was even younger. My family and possibly some friends or relatives (?) went hiking in a foresty place, probably the Columbia Gorge. I remember being determined to hike as fast as my older brother Blair, and so I was following him when he and whoever he was with took off onto a narrower, more overgrown path than the main one. They were too fast, and the path was too difficult for me. In an instant, I was entirely by myself.

I think I wandered around on the trail for a while, and then two male hikers found me. I remember one was bald and one had glasses, although maybe I just remember that one was bald and had glasses, and I have no idea what the other one looked like. In any case, they quickly figured out that I was lost and started asking me questions about where my parents were.

I don't remember how much time passed before I said I was thirsty and they took me down to a busier part of the trail where there was a stream. And this is the funniest part (to me) of the whole ordeal. The most traumatic part of the experience for my kid self was not that I was entirely separated from my family and in the care of two complete strangers, but that I would soon be forced to drink stream water. I even remember the guy dipping his canteen into the stream to fill it up.

But wouldn't you know it, at that very moment, or very, very shortly thereafter, my mom came running down the trail to rescue me. And that was the end of the adventure. Crisis narrowly averted, as far as drinking stream water went.

One of these days I'll have to ask my mom what really happened. Looking back, I realize how lucky I was that nothing worse happened. Though it's very possible I would have been scarred forever by that stream water. Ew!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why we're willing to go into labor

Another Sunday, another gauntlet to run at church. I don't know what it is about church that makes me dread attending when I am so close to my due date. Maybe it's because I see everyone else around here on a daily basis, even three times a day at mealtimes, and so it's not a big deal to wake up another morning and see everyone and still be pregnant.

But when a whole week has passed between Sundays, I just feel like everyone is salivating to find out whether huge fat Bridget had her fat baby yet and will she ever stop being so huge and fat and have that baby already? Today was no different. People are nice about it, and I end up just pasting a smile on my face and saying something inane like, "here I am!" Here's to hoping that today was the last Sunday I'll have to do that.

While we're on the topic of complaining, allow me to air a few other grievances. I can see that the system of pregnancy and childbirth was intelligently designed, because by the end of it all, we ladies are willing to do just about anything to get the infant usurper out of us. Even labor. I've felt "ready" for a few weeks now, but the symptoms of being done with this pregnancy are increasing exponentially each day that goes by.

So let's go ahead and get slightly specific, if for no other reason than so I can look back and mock myself once the baby is born and laugh about how much better everything is on the other side.

1. Miriam and I have this exchange several times a day: "Mama, can I sit on your lap?" "Um, sweetie, I don't have a lap." "Why?" "Because of my big fat tummy." Repeat, repeat, repeat.

2. My number one goal in life is to seek out comfortable seating. It is really difficult to stand still for any length of time and I am always looking for a place to sit down.

3. I can't sleep. It's been progressively getting worse and last night was the hardest one yet. People are always saying it's easier when the baby is inside, but these people are lying.

4. I can't remember the last time I was physically comfortable. Everything is relative: I'm only sometimes just less uncomfortable than I was before.

5. I get heartburn from drinking water. Seriously.

6. Bending over to pick up anything I've dropped is almost impossible. The worst part is that somehow I'm clumsier than ever, so there are a lot more things to be picking up. I am fond of asking myself (or Jeremy), out loud, rhetorically: "Why do I drop things? So that I can pick them up."

7. The little things, like noticing how aware everyone is of my large girth. It's subtle, but when I'm walking around in the cafeteria, I can tell that people are leaning in toward the table when I pass by, or tucking in their chairs to allow more room for me to pass. I'm huge, I get it, OK? But thanks for your consideration.

8. The mental strain of constantly wondering when the big day will come. This one is really taking its toll.

There's more, but I feel better already having just shared these few. I was lucky enough with Miriam to start labor the day after announcing to the world - well, actually just Jeremy - that I was DONE and planned to spend the rest of the pregnancy inside our air-conditioned apartment reading books and watching movies. So maybe declaring the same thing here (minus the AC, and also the unrestricted leisure time) will have the same effect. Here goes!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Spoiled forever?

Not having to cook for the whole summer isn't the only thing spoiling me these days. I'm wondering if I'll ever have such a good experience (so far) with a midwife again.

I remember reading Shannan's blog during her pregnancy and hearing her rave about her midwifery care. I had a midwife with Miriam, but the kinds of positive things that Shannan had to say about her experience didn't really jive with mine. I was mostly thankful for my midwife because I believe that if I had been under an OB's care, I would have had a C-section. For that alone, I was counting my blessings.

So now I'm happy to be able to say for myself that everything she said about midwifery care being an empowering, positive experience is true. I firmly believe that women should choose the kind of prenatal caregiver that will be best for them, whether it be an OB or a midwife. There are both kinds - terrible and wonderful - of each out there, and what matters is that you find the best match for your situation.

What I've experienced transferring from a midwife in Tucson to a midwife in Middlebury is the perfect example of that concept. You really can't make blanket statements like "midwives are better than OBs" because, as I said, there is so much variation within each method.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here is what a typical visit to the midwife in Tucson was like: Arrive ten minutes early, wait up to 70 minutes to be shown to a room (that was my longest wait; I think my shortest was more like 30 minutes), wait an additional 10 minutes to see the midwife after the nurse has done the weight and blood pressure check, chat with the midwife for no more than five minutes or so, do any exams that need to be done, and see you later. I leave feeling like I've just wasted two hours of my day to basically have my weight written down on a chart.

A visit to the midwife in Vergennes (a few towns over), on the other hand, looks more like this: Arrive 10 - 30 minutes early, depending on the bus schedule; pee in a cup and take my weight on my own while I wait; be seen on time or even early, depending on the midwife's schedule; chat with the midwife about whatever for what so far has been as long as I want. I imagine there is a time limit, but we haven't found it yet. Move into a different room to do any exams that need to be done, and see you later. I leave feeling confident, hopeful, and happy.

To be fair, I know there must be so many background circumstances at work here that I don't understand. Things like budgeting, funding, staff availability, size of population served, length of practice, etc. all contribute to the differences in experience listed above. But on the face of it, I realize now that I was not satisfied with the level of care I was receiving in Tucson. I felt unloved, unappreciated, and un-listened to - just another patient whose name they could never remember. In a medical sense, of course, I felt that I was in perfectly capable hands, and until seeing a midwife in Middlebury, I had been telling myself that that's all that matters.

So now I fear I'm spoiled forever as far as prenatal care goes because now I know what it can really be like. I've seen midwifery care's full potential and it would be hard to go back.

What were your experiences with prenatal care, whether it was with an OB or a midwife?

Friday, July 25, 2008

The workers

The dining hall we eat at every day is connected to a residence hall. The name of the residence hall is "La Force." Whether it is named for the infamous prison remains to be discovered, but I have to wonder since the workers in the dining hall wear what essentially appear to be red liberty caps. Coincidence? I don't really care to find out, because if the answer is no, how freaky is that?

The workers at the cafeteria, liberty caps notwithstanding, are good at what they do and kind and courteous, too. The other day, they sent me home with two big bottles of juice for Miriam. They said they'd ordered the juice by mistake and for some reason, Miriam was the child upon whom they chose to bestow their bounty. Today, they sent me home with more juice, this time in small bottles. I'm not a big juice fiend or anything, but it is always nice to have on hand. Also today, they set aside a huge bowl of blueberries for Jeremy at breakfast, just because he had told them the day before that he liked them so much.

Since they are such nice people, it's a shame Miriam continues to refer to them androgynously. I don't know if it's the fact that they all wear the same uniform or what, but Miriam calls them "workers" and uses the pronoun "it" to refer to one in singular. We'll have to work on that, lest she call them "it" to their face and cut off our juice supply.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A soundtrack for Sasha 2.0

So I'm trying to figure out a few good songs to listen to during labor. I didn't listen to any music out loud with Miriam, but I did manage to get Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" stuck in my head. I still can't listen to it without getting the shivers and possibly shedding a tear or two.

To give you an idea of the kind of music I'm looking for, here are the two songs I've chosen already, from the movie Dear Frankie (which you really should see).

Opening Title, and The Final Letter. Those links lead to Amazon's music page, but you might have better luck listening to a sample on iTunes. Both of these songs are piano-based, not to slow, not too fast, and for me at least, are very evocative of deep, positive emotion. Maybe it helps if you've seen the movie, or if you listen to these songs while on a bus ride through the verdant Vermont countryside as I've tried to do to build positive association.

Some other ideas that I've had for the soundtrack are music from Masterpiece Theatre's versions of Sense & Sensibility and Persuasion, music from the original Amanda Root version of Persuasion, and maybe a Jon Schmidt song or two. The problem is that as far as I can tell, soundtracks have not been released for any of those Jane Austen movies, and I am not familiar with any Jon Schmidt song except "Waterfall."

The other problem is that any song I use may very well be rendered unlistenable after the actual birth experience is over (see Gordon Lightfoot, above). That's why I'm not pulling out the big guns and adding the soundtrack of the 2005 Pride & Prejudice to my list, even though it's pretty much my favorite soundtrack ever. I just can't risk having it ruined for everyday casual listening.

An alternative might be the soundtrack to Atonement, which was written by the same composer as Pride & Prejudice. It gets rave reviews on iTunes - is anyone familiar with it?

What other songs are you aware of that might fit the style of what I'm looking for?

Where's a machete when you need one?

I don't know why I continue to insist on making such a spectacle of myself. It's enough that Miriam and I trek around campus and town, attracting the stares and raised eyebrows of strangers. A significant part of me wants to just stay at home all day, every day, from now on, until the baby is born. And yet, there we are, Miriam and I, walking downtown every single day. And the spectacle continues.

At least today we were an adventurous spectacle. I had a visit with the midwife (everything is fine, and I appear to be very ready to have a baby) and afterwards, Miriam and I walked to Shaw's to catch the bus back into Middlebury. The great thing is that the Shaw's complex is not surrounded by a tall cement wall as so many businesses these days are, making them completely inaccessible to pedestrians approaching from anywhere other than the main road. The midwifery practice happens to be located across from and behind Shaw's, separated only by a large field. Another great thing is that someone cuts the grass of the field in the shape of a path so that instead of having to walk all the way to the main road and around to Shaw's via the main vehicular approach, I can cut through the field and be there in about two minutes.

So Miriam and I set off through the field to Shaw's to catch the bus, as usual. I noticed there were lots of mosquitoes stalking us, and that they were huge mosquitoes. In fact, they were so huge that the movie Jumanji actually came to mind. (What also came to mind was the time some friends and I were watching Jumanji at a beach house and during the movie, a bat came flying out of the fireplace. True story.)

Then, we turned the corner, very close to Shaw's, and came upon an extremely large, extensive portion of a tree, lying across the mowed path, apparently downed during a recent storm. And there was no way around it. If we wanted to get to Shaw's, we had to hack our way through its foliage.

Looking back, I should have thrown principle and economy to the wind and turned us right around to walk to Shaw's via the main road. But in keeping with my habit of making a spectacle of myself, I folded up the stroller, put my backpack on my back, and told Miriam to start climbing through.

Meanwhile, the mosquitoes were eating us alive. I kept urging Miriam on through the increasingly brambly, awkward, difficult passage while simultaneously trying to keep the worst of the mosquitoes off of her. Right when we were in the middle of the tangled branches, Miriam decided she no longer trusted in her mom's sanity (don't know that I blame her) and started to whimper, and also refused to move forward.

I couldn't lean over very well to help her, what with being 38+ weeks pregnant. I couldn't maneuver between the branches very well, what with carrying a folded stroller in my arms and a backpack on my back. But somehow, we hacked our way through the fallen tree and emerged, one of us crying and one of us frazzled, both of us extremely disheveled, directly onto a corner of the Shaw's parking lot.

And right there, watching our every move, was a lady sitting in her parked car. She must have seen the whole thing. I ended up having to basically rip the stroller from the tangly vines of the tree and then remove the shreds of foliage from the wheels, all right in front of her. And then, as nonchalantly as possible, Miriam and I walked toward Shaw's as if to convince the lady in her car that to see a massively pregnant woman and her toddler burst out of the underbrush swatting like maniacs at mosquitoes is a totally normal experience.

Though to be honest, I can't be sure she was entirely convinced after all.

Monday, July 21, 2008

It's more than just great coats!

Does anyone else remember that company's slogan?

Miriam playing in the fountain on Church St in Burlington

All the language schools had a long weekend over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and with Jeremy’s rare spurt of free time, we decided to go to Burlington yesterday. Burlington is the “big city” around here. I say that not to mock, but to give you an idea of how small Vermont really is, both in size and population.

We endured a longer-than-it-should-have-been ride on the Burlington Link bus. I think that in some ways, living in Arizona has spoiled us because everyone and everything there has AC, including, for example, buses. I don’t know if the Link bus did have AC and it just wasn’t working, or what, but it was crammed full of bodies and I felt like a sweaty, fat pig for the whole ride. I passed the time by people-watching my fellow passengers (the usual comical mix of clean-cut young students and uncouth, unwashed homeless people) and also listening in on their conversations (English conversation is hard to come by around here, so it was good to catch up a little bit). By the end of the bus ride, I was left pondering the meaning of “sketch,” as applied to on-campus housing, and “hot mess,” as used by a young man who was going to Burlington to do some clothes shopping. I think the first word is an abbreviation for “sketchy,” which I kind of understand, but “hot mess” still eludes me (yes, I edit the dictionary, but give me a break on these two).

Burlington is a nice place. It has a hip main pedestrian drag, and when we were there, there was a farmer’s market going on. I think there is a farmer’s market going on at some place in the state of Vermont at any given time. It’s lovely.

We passed an über chic parenting store, whose name escapes me, mostly because what stole my attention was that the store sold a Swedish brand of maternity clothing called BOOB. And now, if someone out there Googles “Swedish boob,” they will perhaps stumble upon my site (if not worse, as I discovered yesterday when I naively Googled that term first before I learned my lesson and added “maternity clothing” for my next search). Yes, we did go into the store and look at the BOOB clothes, and they are awesome. Why must the Europeans continue to impress me so? BOOB makes nursing clothes, too, and they are far superior to all the American trap-door-style shirts and dresses I’ve seen. I loved everything about the clothes except the similarly European-style price. Oh well.

There was only one bus back to Middlebury that day, at the end of the day, which of course meant that we had taken a small risk traveling 90 minutes away from home without any reliable independent means of getting to the birthing center in case I went into labor. But I just knew that if I stayed home all day just for the sake of it, my body would mock me by not going into labor. So I tempted fate by going on a small trip and my body mocked me anyway. Again, oh well.

When we’d gotten our fill of the main street and chain stores (the first ones we’ve seen since being in Middlebury, because there aren’t any here), it was about time to catch the bus home. We walked back to the place where it had dropped us off and began to wait, even as we realized that all our fellow bus mates were lining up farther down the street, closer to the bus station. This leapfrogging tactic is a little trick we learned in the Middle East. It’s considered slightly unethical, but if you win, no one will call you on it because they wouldn’t have acted any differently. Sure enough – when the bus pulled around the corner, it saw us waiting first and stopped to let us on. We were the first ones to board, with our choice of seats on the shady side. Everyone else had to hustle over from what probably was, in fact, the real bus stop, to fight over the remaining seats. Jeremy and I laughed evilly to ourselves until he gave up his seat anyway for a woman, who in turn gave up her seat for a man with a cane. The gentlemen sitting in the “for elderly and disabled passengers” seats remained undisturbed.

It was a nice trip out of Middlebury, but at the same time, we're glad to be back.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A frequently asked question

Sometimes I forget who knows what around here.

The story behind "Sasha 2.0" is pretty simple. When I was pregnant with Miriam, before we knew if the baby was a boy or a girl, Jeremy and I took to calling the baby Sasha. This is because in Russian, Sasha can be a nickname for Alexander or Alexandra - the perfect androgynous term of endearment.

The 2.0, of course, is for the current, updated version.

Also, just because it caused some confusion last time around, Sasha will not be the name of the baby once she's born. It's just being used while the baby is in utero.

Also, my due date is August 3rd. I would put up one of those tickers, but the last thing I want to be reminded of is exactly how many days I have left. But if you need a flickering countdown, go ahead and use this one and just add a day. Yep, Stephenie Meyer's new book, Breaking Dawn, comes out the day before my due date:

Hope that helps!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Entering my confinement

In the olden days, women used to retreat to their homes and bedrooms to "enter their confinement" for the last month or so of pregnancy. I'm sure there were many reasons for doing so, including inexact due dates, the societal indelicacy of pregnancy, and the need for a change of pace - for the slower - in the woman's life (for those who could afford, not necessarily monetarily, to do so).

It's this last aspect of a confinement that I find particularly appealing, perhaps because with this pregnancy, I've been able to do exactly that: take a time-out, as it were, from the everyday hustle and bustle of our life in Tucson. And friends, it has been wonderful. The biggest part of the slow-down is probably not having to cook, at all, but there are other things contributing to it, too.

Think about it - since I don't have to cook, I don't have to seek out, shop for, buy, prepare, or clean up after food, either. We don't have a car, so everything Miriam and I do is either walkable or bus-able. I'm disconnected from friends, a (nice) house (that we totally miss) to take care of, church obligations, and regular old routine stuff that we do just because. Money has become almost meaningless to us since we never have to spend it, at least not in small, day-to-day amounts (unfortunately, things like cell phone bills continue to exist).

Similarly, time, at least for Miriam and me, is worth less. With small exceptions for activities like dictionary work, laundry, and midwife visits, our time here is leisurely and unstructured. Basically, we play outside all day long on this gorgeous campus that is our backyard, taking breaks only to eat meals that other people prepared for me or - gasp! - take a nap. There must be something in the water here because after a 9-month abstention, Miriam takes a daily nap again. Of course, her bedtime is now 10.30, but what woman - pregnant or not - doesn't relish the chance to take a rest in the middle of the day instead of pressing on desperately to 8 o'clock with an increasingly cranky child?

Here are some photos from a day in the life of Bridget & Miriam:

The main bridge crossing downtown, as seen from the Marble Works farmer's market. There's a place to go down to the water and throw rocks in, as Miriam was happy to discover. Also downtown: the library, lots of quirky little shops, a village green (with three family-friendly concerts a day all this week), a playground, etc.

The swings by St. Mary's Church, at the foot of campus. If Miriam ever converts to Catholicism, I think it will be somehow related to this church and how beautiful she thinks it is. Every time we pass it, she wants to go inside. And when the bells ring on the hour, every hour - well, she's in love with the building, what can I say?

This is "the close church" - on campus, not far from our house. It may not be as pretty as St. Mary's, but Miriam is an ardent fan of its weekly carillon concerts.

One of the best things about having a campus for a backyard is that besides the wide open green spaces, Middlebury has stocked its common areas and quads with Adirondack chairs. Miriam calls them "silly chairs," and they are a life-saver for me. Wherever we go, I always have a place to sit down. Also wherever we go, we have a potty readily available, in some on-campus building or another.

I am really enjoying my modified "confinement," especially the part where Miriam and I spend lots of time together. I think it will be a fitting way to welcome a new baby to the family, having had a chance to teach, nurture, and love Miriam so intimately and so immediately beforehand.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle...Meh.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is one of those books that can only be thoroughly loved and enjoyed by people who already enthusiastically embrace its message.

For the rest of us, it is an interesting, insightful read at best; a condescending load of insulting inside jokes at worst.

Your chances of forming an opinion more like the former increase tremendously if you read beyond the first few chapters. Otherwise, it is quite possible you will end up battling the following emotions:

1. I am going straight to hell because I eat bananas.
2. I and/or my children are idiots if they aren't well versed in advanced farming techniques.
3. I hate my planet and am doing my best to destroy it if I, even occasionally, buy non-organic/shop at a regular grocery store/ingest high-fructose corn syrup.
4. If I find it impossible to leave my entire life behind and set up on a farm in a fertile area of America and live on everything I grow myself, I am simply not trying hard enough.
5. The only exception to all of the above is if I can't give up coffee. That's the one vice I'm allowed to have, because nobody's that crazy.

Obviously, I'm exaggerating, but not by much. And not on #5, at all.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote The Poisonwood Bible as well, although that is entirely irrelevant to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's almost as if two people with the same name but no shared interests or skill sets wrote the two books, completely by coincidence. So if you loved The Poisonwood Bible, as I did, just know that it doesn't matter.

Her co-authors are none other than her husband and daughter. Cute idea, but in actual fact, a lot of the book's condescending tone came from their contributions. After a while, I skipped over the husband's diatribes completely because I just couldn't handle the guilt trips anymore. The daughter's chapter-end essays were similarly off-putting, though in her defense, that might have been just because she's young. Everything she said just sounded like a smarmy, know-it-all 18-year-old talking about how she was better than me (and maybe she is, but that doesn't make it right).

However, and this is a big "however," the book definitely has redeeming qualities once you get over yourself and that huge self-esteem you used to have. Because really, where does our food come from? What is the deal with "organic" products - what does that even mean? What is happening to the farming industry in America? Can a family of 4 survive largely on locally produced food and still live to tell about it or, gasp, even eat well?

I'm sure you can guess the answer to that last question, as it's the point of the book. Along the way, I learned a lot about the American food industry and old-fashioned home gardening and preserving. What I didn't find out about was the fate of that blue warty squash Ms. Kingsolver brought home from Italy. She made a big deal of the fact that they had to practically organize their entire Tuscan vacation around preserving the squash's seeds and then...they never planted them? I don't know; perhaps she's setting the stage for a sequel.

As far as having an impact on my life, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did make me want to patronize local food vendors more. Here in Middlebury, we're lucky to be eating at a campus cafeteria that actively seeks out Vermont-based food suppliers - something like 80% (? - I can't remember the exact percentage) of its food is considered local. And there is a farmer's market downtown twice a week which - if you can believe it - accepts certain kinds of food stamps. What kind of place is this??

And I do know the taste advantages of local, in-season produce. In Damascus, we bought our produce from a fruit stand that looked like this:

But when winter came, there was far less available, and I well remember the feeling of pining after delicious Golan apples in January. So maybe I'm not as big of a wuss as Ms. Kingsolver thinks I am.

Areas in which AVM left me hanging were:

1. Let's face it, cost. Ms. Kingsolver did address that topic but it basically came down to, if you care enough, you will pay more, sometimes lots more. I'm sorry, but in many ways, that just doesn't cut it. Not for me, at least not for every product. I also found her attitude on this subject slightly disingenuous because first of all, her family apparently enjoys two incomes (and the farm was a family inheritance, as well), and second of all, she only has two kids, only one of which was actually around during the whole experiment.
2. So, bananas aren't OK, but jetting off to Tuscany and renting a car to motor around the countryside for a few weeks is, as far as carbon footprints go? Just checking.
3. What about those of us who live in, say, Tucson, a city which you yourself fled in the first chapter of the book precisely because it is a barren wasteland that is not meant to sustain life? Seriously, what are we supposed to do? Just continue filtering our stolen desert sludge water and hope we don't die from the effects of the chemicals found in it that so horrified you?
4. Is basic farming knowledge really more important than calculus, or physics, or comparative literature, or whatever? Isn't that more one of those "to each his own, and that's how the world continues to function" things?
5. No bananas???? Is it possible that you are actually serious??
6. If you're allowed coffee, a drink which I've never had in my whole life, can't I have bananas?

So, there you have it. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Read it if you want to find out a lot of cool information about the food industry in America. But make sure you pump up your principles beforehand because they will definitely take a beating.

The name game, round 2

Looking back, I think Jeremy and I were really lucky to find a name we both agreed on as whole-heartedly as Miriam. This time around, it's been a bit trickier to find that perfect match, perhaps because there are three of us now: not only does the name have to appeal to both Jeremy and me, it has to jive with Miriam, too. I don't mean her little 2.75-year-old opinion; the style of whatever name we choose for Sasha 2.0 can't totally clash with what we've already established.

And as helpful as Eric D. Snider's advice on the subject may be, I found I needed a little more guidance.

Fortunately, there's an awesome lady out there who can help: Laura Wattenberg, the
Baby Name Wizard. I wrote about her in this post, but recently I've been spending more time on her website, trying to figure out some great candidates for Sasha 2.0's real name. She also has a book, published in 2005 (but with a new edition forthcoming, I understand), which I picked up at the library here in Middlebury. At first, I thought it couldn't really give me anything that her website didn't already provide, but I was wrong.

For one thing, a physical book format makes for easier perusing if I feel like just flipping through the pages. In addition, her book includes wise, sound naming advice, brief looks at upcoming trends in the world of baby names, and lists of names organized by style.

This last section of the book is what really sets The Baby Name Wizard apart from other baby name books. Not all of us - in fact, do any of us? - go into the baby name search thinking, "well, I really want a name that starts with L," or, "a name with an Italian origin would be nice." And yet, that is how the majority of baby name books and websites are organized.

Instead, after a more traditional (but still innovative) listing of baby names, A - Z, separated into boys and girls, Ms. Wattenberg gives us tons of insight into what she calls Style Families. That way, if you want a name that is nickname-proof (or conversely, if you are set on a certain nickname and are looking for a full-length name that goes with it), or that ends in -en, or a last-name-first name, you can flip right to that section, read all about it, and peruse an extensive listing of such names. It just makes so much sense!

That doesn't mean the alphabetical listings are no fun to look through, though. Ms. Wattenberg has an excellent eye for insight into naming trends, and conveys the information in a concise, witty manner. And she goes way beyond "insights" like, "Gaelic for 'exalted one.'" For example, here is her entry on Misty (not a name we were considering, I swear, but it's right next to Miriam in the book):

"Forgive me, all of you fine, blameless women who were named Misty back in the 70s, but this name has now returned to its rightful realms: horses and strippers."

And, just for another example, Jessica:

"Everything parents have always loved about Jessica still applies. It's a delicately feminine name with Shakespearean heritage and a peppy nickname. It's an impeccable choice, but not one that will attract much notice - Jessica's been so popular for so long it gets taken for granted. Less common lacy classics include Marina, Tabitha, and Veronica."

So true, and so helpful.

Another unique feature of The Baby Name Wizard is its sibling name suggestions. These are names that are similar in style and feel to whatever name you're looking up, and can lead you to other name possibilities. Fortunately, there is a digital version of this sibling name tool: Nymbler. You just type in a few names that you like, click a button, and the program generates a list of names that you are also likely to prefer based on origin, style, and popularity. Here is what one click of the Find Names button gives me with Miriam, Veronica, and Cora as input (you can click more times to get a new list of names, and X the ones you don't want to reappear):

Even if you're not in the market for a baby name, Nymbler is almost as fun as the Baby Name Voyager to play around with.

All that said, I think Jeremy and I finally have a strong name candidate or two for Sasha 2.0. We'll just have to wait until she's born to make it official, and also hope that we don't change our minds before then.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The state of things

Miriam and I had another 6-hour adventure trip to the midwife today. A few highlights and some info on how Sasha 2.0 is doing:

- Whoever invented rain shields for strollers is a genius. And Karina is a slightly lesser genius (but only slightly) for reminding/advising me to bring one to Middlebury. Miriam continues to be the best-equipped member of the family by owning rain boots, a rain coat, water sandals, and some ruggedly functional duds from Columbia Sportswear (courtesy of Grandpa Walker). I don't think Jeremy and I own all of the above even in combination.

- Small-town New England continues to hold considerable charm for me. Bristol was having a farmer's market on the village green (I really don't make this stuff up, even if it does sound idyllically unrealistic) when we passed through town.

- I had a great visit with the midwife, and Sasha 2.0 has officially turned. Also, I know it doesn't really matter, but I basically gained no weight in the last three weeks. That should tell you how good (in both flavor and substance) the food really is here. What it also tells you is how much walking around I do since we don't have a car. Don't worry, there's still a chance I'll gain just as much weight as I did last time. But it looks like I might come in just a few pounds under gaining 50% of my body weight this time around.

- Has anyone (without previous history of premature babies with problems) ever not been anxious to get the show on the road, as it were, as far as labor goes? I'll be 37 weeks - legally full-term - on Sunday and I am SO ready. Bring it on.

Monday, July 07, 2008

In search of sparklers

In honor of Miriam's first 4th of July in America, she and I walked into town Friday morning to find some sparklers.

Middlebury is a small town, and I knew that a lot of stores would be closed for the holiday. Sure enough, my first bet for minor fireworks, Ben Franklin, was not open. It's too bad, because that store is so intriguing to me. It's like a freak hybrid conglomeration of Target, Michael's, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Payless, and the dollar store, but not equal as a whole in either size or selection to any of the above. (If any of you grew up in the Cedar Mill area of Portland, it reminds me of Rogers that used to be next to the library.) At first, I wrote it off as a Middlebury novelty, but judging from the website, it's some kind of national chain. Weird.

So we pressed on to what was, in my opinion, the next most likely store to both be open and to have sparklers: Shaw's. This is a local-ish supermarket chain and I figured they'd have some kind of special display for small-time fireworks. And they did - but it was cleaned out of sparklers. One thing I love about Middlebury is that strangers aren't afraid to talk to each other. So when I asked a cashier where I could find some sparklers, a few bystanders chipped in before she could answer and told me to try Greg's Meat Market.

However, Greg's Meat Market was farther away than I was feeling like walking, so we tried Kinney Drugs next. Open, with no sparklers - no fireworks at all, in fact - but there were more helpful strangers telling me that Greg's Meat Market would definitely have them.

Greg's Meat Market, while technically within walking distance, was in another corner of town in the opposite direction of campus. So I told Miriam we'd find some sparklers later and we headed home.

I get the feeling that if I was a Middlebury native, I would have somehow known intuitively that Greg's Meat Market was the place to find sparklers on the 4th of July. As it is, I still haven't been there - Jeremy ran down there later in the day and saved our 4th of July celebration by purchasing sparklers and snakes. But now I know, and knowing is half the battle.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Please, please let me differ

Remember that book I loved, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier? Well, yesterday, I was reading one of Orson Scott Card's "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" columns, and Cold Mountain earned a passing mention on account of having recently been named to Entertainment Weekly's "New Classics" list. What did the famous Mormon science fiction writer have to say about the book that has probably made it on to my all-time favorites list? Well, read for yourself:

"And they [the EW book review people] showed how easily they're fooled by pretentious tricks (yes, I know that this is right after I criticized the So You Think You Can Dance judges for using that term - but I'm right, and they weren't). Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain is an incoherent mess of a story - but it touches all the right politically correct buttons, and it's told so awkwardly that it has to be art."

Wow. I read that and felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. Did we read the same book? Did I miss something everybody else caught? Incoherent mess of a story? Politically correct buttons? Told so awkwardly that it has to be art???

But why does it even matter to me what Orson Scott Card thinks about a book we both happen to have read? Because, my friends, OSC is one of those reviewers whose opinions I generally respect - especially when he's talking about homework, Mormons watching R-rated movies, and sidewalks, or the lack thereof (but not movies or politics, sorry). I've even generally agreed with his opinions on books, until yesterday. And now it's like a little part of me has died because if we disagree so fundamentally on Cold Mountain, how can I still maintain a reviewer/review-reader relationship with him? Differences of opinion are easier to explain away when the reviewer loves something and the reader didn't really care for it. But the other way around hints at deeper differences that are not so easily resolved.

For movie reviews, in case you're wondering, I depend on Eric D. Snider (a trait I share with Stephenie Meyer, by the way). I used to agree with Roger Ebert all the time, but then one of us went off the deep end, and I think it was the person who gave She's the Man three stars.

Does anyone else have pet reviewers whose opinions they generally agree with? Have you ever had to break up with any of them, as I did with Roger Ebert?

We'll see if OSC and I make it out of this Cold Mountain snafu unscathed. I'll be sure to let you know if there are any further developments.

Happy Fourth o'July

In honor of our nation's birthday, I bring you an open letter from the English language to the town of Havre, Montana. Pictures courtesy of my mom, who was there recently.

Dear Havre,

Why do you hate me?


English Language

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Middlebury, Vermont, whose supermarket is so grammatically anal that its express lane signs actually say "10 Items or Fewer," rather than the universally accepted "10 Items or Less." Bravo! There's no better example of linguistic prescriptivism than one that doesn't quite sound correct to the native English ear, even if it is.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Come back to me is my request"

In one of those weird coincidences that sometimes pop up, I checked out Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain at the library last week. For some reason, Jeremy mentioned to me that the movie Cold Mountain was on TV last weekend. This remark didn't make sense because neither of us really knows anything about the movie and neither of us really watch TV, even when we have it, which we do, here in Middlebury. In any case, we ended up not watching the movie. It was just one of those passing comments that eventually fades away.

The next day, I went to the library and they had an entire shelf in the front room featuring Civil War fiction (Gone With the Wind, Killer Angels, etc.). Cold Mountain was right at eye level, daring me to check it out, so I did.

I finished it last night, and I'm glad for the coincidence that led to me bringing the book home. Cold Mountain is a stirring, bleakly moving novel about, essentially, love and war. It took me a few hours of digestion after finishing reading it to boil it down to those two elements, but I'm pretty sure I've figured it out.

In form, it is very much one of those "journey" stories, where a main character embarks on a journey that is both physical and emotional/spiritual. Along the often winding and roundabout path, the character encounters different people and situations that further either element, or perhaps both elements, of this journey. Cold Mountain sets it up as a wounded Civil War soldier (Inman) deserting the army to return home to his kind-of sweetheart (Ada). I spoil nothing by telling you that much of the plot, and you can probably glean even more of the story just by watching the trailer for the movie (which I still have not seen).

But this book is more than just a journey story. As I said, it is about love and war. Through Inman's experiences on the road, the author shows us many different kinds of each. However, he does so while managing to avoid my least-favorite characteristic of journey stories, which goes something like, "...and then he went here, and learned this, and then he met so-and-so, and learned this," etc.

I can recommend this book to you almost wholeheartedly. Why "almost"? It's my dang morals getting in the way again. Frazier writes one of the most beautiful, muted love stories I've ever read, but at one point in the middle of the book he takes the unfortunate tactic of illustrating how great that love is by showing us a different, entirely base example of human "affection." Once that lesser character exits the story, though, the book returns to its high moral plane. (There is also a sprinkling of s-words, though the word is almost exclusively used in what must have been its 19th-century sense; that is, to mean "poo.")

There is violence as well, but in a book about the Civil War, what do you expect? In a parallel to the main love story, Frazier shows us that there are different kinds of violence, as well. What is justified? What is not? Do motives or the innocence/guilt of the victims matter when there's a war going on?

The novel uses conversational dialogue sparely, with the title of this post being one of the impressive examples of its moving simplicity. And besides all the interesting plot elements, the writing is elegant, engaging, and so evocative of place and time that I actually found the voice in my head reading in a southern accent.

If that isn't proof of a good book, I don't know what is.


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