Monday, October 6, 2014

Community: Not just friends

In Small Town, Midwest we (eventually) found ourselves at a wonderful church plant- just big enough to feel like a church, just small enough you could conceivably know everyone. We liked the service, but we were sold when the pastor welcomed us, chatted about our church background, and recommended several other churches we might check out if we wanted to look around more.

To be honest, the members were so friendly we were actually a little put off- someone invited us to lunch our first day there, and we turned them down. (Midwestern hospitality- it's a thing. We weren't ready yet.) Soon after, another couple with three young kids invited us to get together, and I was a little unsettled when I realized they had actually gotten a babysitter- for the first time ever- just to meet us for coffee one evening. Once we realized they were in fact normal (for the midwest) and just being friendly, we really grew to like that community. That lovely family that got a babysitter were our best friends there! (Fun fact: I'm eternally grateful my first "mom friend" was on her third child and not her first.) Now that we have young kids ourselves and know their situation a little better, it all makes perfect sense.

Since we left the area about 18 months after we found that church (during which we had a difficult pregnancy and new baby), we didn't ever get to know everyone in the church- but we joined a small group and were varying levels of close with several other families. We did play dates and met downtown and exchanged advice and gave recommendations and had dinner and prayed- together and for one another. A picture taken at our last meeting shows rumpled parents and children either wild-eyed and crazy or sleepy and fussy, and we kept it on our fridge for two years.

We were so sad to move away from that community, and we never found one like it in our next location. Even though we had almost the same number of close friends there, they didn't know each other- and so it didn't have the same sense of community. Recommendations didn't trickle back in when word got around that you were looking for a good place to take your parents for dinner. You didn't hear that someone's baby was sick and that's why they weren't there this week. We had a "small group" with one other couple, but if one of us was traveling- which happened frequently- that was it, there was no meeting. There were no group dynamics.

I think maybe we were meant to live in small towns*, and the isolation modern life isn't as healthy for us. Whether or not that sense of community is a universal desire, it has always been precious to me, ever since my first strong group of friends in high school.

 *(I will say I found actual small town life very difficult. Breaking into a close community is a whole other post!)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

31 days of Community

Whenever we move, people love to ask how we like our new location. I never like it. A new place always has plenty of warts sitting on the tip of its nose, but you have to know it a while to appreciate its sly sense of humor, its humble service, or its belly laugh (or, if you always move in August, its mild winter.) But the main reason I never like our new location is we have never moved into a ready-made community. We had a great one in our Hometown, we found a great one in Small Town, Midwest, and we struggled to have one in Slightly Bigger Town, Slightly Less Midwest.  (How did I never name that location before? Those were two hard years.) I showed up here in the Slight South last year ready to craft a community for our family from sheer will and the skin on my teeth. I have heard of mythical people move to a place where they have family, or friends, or a branch of their church, or whatnot- but that's never been us. I don't know that I recommend our method.

However, all that moving has allowed me many moments to reflect on community, the different types we've had (and wanted), how to cultivate it, and why it matters. Hopefully enough moments to make it through (about) 31 days of discussion! (OK, really I'll be happy with 15- we'll see!)

Monday, September 22, 2014

What We're Into: Labor Day Edition

(This is very belated, but I found this in the drafts folder today. At the time it seemed a little too Eeyore, but in retrospect E and I got a good laugh. Hopefully the Fall Edition has a little more cheer and a lot more pumpkin spice.)

We are settling into our new house- it's slowly feeling less like a really nice vacation home, and more like a place we live, and also, inexplicably and somewhat overwhelmingly, own and are responsible for. Some things we're into right now:

Our exterminator: Dave and I are on a first-name basis. He's come three times for wood roaches and once for yellow jackets. I'm wondering if he does snakes.

Deep breathing: We found three more wood roaches in the past week, and I had been hoping not to renew my acquaintance with Dave until spring. One was dead and none were in our bed, so we're thinking good thoughts and trying not to hold our breath.

Yard work: After E found a copperhead hiding in the rotting plant he was removing, we are on a mission to destroy any attractive snake habitat in our yard. At the current rate we're going, this will take infinity weeks.

Paying bills: We bought a house with 600 additional square feet, painted a room, exterminated (twice), replaced 20 feet of sewer pipe, extricated yellow jackets from our walls (exterior!) and replaced the damaged siding, and bought a literal truck load of furniture from Ikea. You can do the math if you like, but I'd rather not.

(It's real-time me again. Just wanted to let any concerned parties know that we have not found any more snakes and only one roach since writing this. The AC was almost broken but it turns out we are signed up for some kind of remote shut off on really hot days, so the bills are OK too.)

Living without a microwave

So, I'm not a total crazy conspiracy theorist. But, when I found out I was pregnant five years ago, I was heating up my lunch at work with the microwave pointing directly at my yet-unformed baby- and I wondered. There are tons of sources of radiation in my life, and it seemed like this would be a relatively easy one to ditch. I met one friend who only used their microwave to store food in, and I was inspired, but I could never quite pull the plug. (Literally.)

When we moved to the Slight South a year ago, our rental had a built-in microwave, and no room to store ours, so we got rid of it on Craigslist. Of course, when we moved this summer into our new home, it didn't come with a microwave. While our new kitchen has more counter space than I'm used to, after so many years of counter space scarcity, I wasn't looking to give any up. So I figured we'd see how it went- we could always buy one later.

It has been a bit of a learning curve: re-heating rice in a pan was not my best experiment. (Much better in the oven. Thank you Google.) The basic microwave-alternatives are:

Heating in a pot: Great for melting, soups, sauces, and saucy things (like pasta in sauce or leftover meat in sauce to be served over pasta, rice, etc). Sometimes the sauce will burn a little bit on the pot, but it cleans up pretty easily with a scrubby.

Heating in the oven or toaster oven: This has a benefit it took me a while to notice: I go do something else while the food heats. If I heat something up in the microwave and it takes two or three minutes, I usually just stand aimlessly in the kitchen or try to work on a quick task- but it's not really enough time to finish anything. If it takes ten or 15 minutes to heat in the oven- I put it in, set the timer, and move on to the next thing! No awkward waiting. Of course, that means ideally I think about lunch a whole 15 or 20 minutes in advance- awesome when it happens, but it doesn't always. Still, I love the lack of awkward waiting- especially if we're heating up a variety of leftovers that would all require their own several-minute wait. Today I heated two slices a pizza, a couple bites of leftover broccoli, a hot dog, a leftover friend chicken tender, and a hot dog bun all on one big cookie sheet. Ten whole minutes to set the table and heat some soup- and everything was done!

Quick dunk in boiling water: Works great for quickly re-heating boiled or steamed veggies, plain pasta, or the frozen dumplings.

Sauteing in a pan: I've done this with leftover veggies too. Yum.

Benefits? The food tastes amazing! It makes me wonder why I put up with that microwaved texture all those years! Also, it seems to stay hotter and be more evenly heated.

Downsides? Dishes. I usually have to use a different pot or pan that the one I used to store the leftovers. I also ended up buying a tiny saucepan for heating a small amount of food or water. Worth it. (My Dad said heating water in that little pot was actually faster than the microwave!)

It's true that it takes longer and sometimes I get impatient and the food is not as warm it might be. For the most part, it's not a problem- I feel like since the food is more evenly heated, it tastes much better lukewarm than with awkward hot and cold spots like insufficiently heated microwave food.

I've been surprised how much I like not having one! But, after so many years of dependence, I still don't think I'd have the discipline to leave it unused. And that's why I haven't bought a tiny one, even to sterilize our sponges and nose-rinsing squeeze bottles. (That's a whole other post, no?)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Summer 2013 Part 3: In which our apartment is already populated

So, summer of 2013, me and the girls got on a plane: a 3 week old TT and a not-quite 3 year old H. I rode in a wheelchair at the airport, worried that all the walking would exhaust me unduly. In fact, we got lots of special attention with the airline: newborn baby, me in the wheelchair, and H with her peanut dust allergy pass. Fun times. My blessed, long-suffering parents met us at the airport (mind you, they had left our house two weeks ago after coming to help while we HAD TT). We stayed with them for a week while E's dad went out to help him clean, close up our rental, and supervise the packing and loading of our earthly possesions. God bless them all, I don't think it's a week anyone involved would want to relive, but there were no outstanding incidents, so we'll call it a win.

Once E reunited with us, we stayed with his parents for all of- I think- a day and a half until we got the call that our belongings would be arriving in the Slight South ahead of schedule. Overall, this was great news, but we realized we needed to hightail it down there to be ready at 7am the morning the truck might arrive. We came down a day early and got the key, set up a bank account, and got new cell phones and service. (With a newborn. Did I mention that? TT turned 5 weeks the day our belongings arrived at our new house). Also, the morning our belongings arrived, I got the call that my Grandma had died in the night. It wasn't too unexpected, but it was sad- especially because I didn't really have time to grieve at the time. I remember the morning in our new place answering the door crying. It was the mail lady with a question about who was living there now. She asked if I was OK, and I told her my grandma had just died. Even though it was the truth, I wonder if she thought I was a battered wife making excuses.

E's family came down the day after us and stayed in a hotel for a few nights to help us get unpacked and settled. (More blessings on them. They have helped us move every time- 4 times in 7 years.) They left, and then shortly after TT and I flew back home to attend the funeral. E and H put up curtains and visited campus to get E's ID card and find his classes.

But I skipped the part in which our apartment was populated. The day we moved in, E saw a 3-inch long roach crawl out of the dishwasher space toward the pizza box, and then back under the counter. We got a can of raid, and that evening there were about 6 live, dead, or dying roaches to be dealt with- all giant, and one with babies. We were back at the landlords office the next morning, livid and/or in tears. (I'll leave you to guess who was who.) They assured us these were "waterbugs"- American Cockroaches- not the German Cockroaches one finds in restaurants, slums, and NY apartments. They are endemic to the south and sneak in houses, but don't generally eat food. In our case, it seems they had taken up residence around our dishwasher- or more likely in the crawl space just outside it- while our apartment had been unoccupied. They had a pest company come out and spray outside (I guess it took a few days- I was back from the funeral by the time they came). We stopped seeing live roaches, though we would come across a dead one about once a day (the company said that was normal), but I was finding the poop everywhere, more and more and more in the living room and kitchen. We had sprays, powders, all our food in containers, natural deterrents- all of which had to be bought during the day with a newborn and toddler, and then applied at 10:30 when TT finally fell asleep, because I wanted them to have a little contact with the chemicals as possible. I was about to actually loose my mind- thinking about breaking our lease and moving again sounded impossible, and I just didn't know what to do. The day I found "roach" poop in TT's car seat was the worst- I called my mom crying (again) and she asked if I was sure it wasn't a mouse. I said of course of I was sure, hung up, cried some more, and then thought.... huh. Maybe it is a mouse. (How closely do you really look at poops number 20-200?) What do you know.... we had a mouse!

I'm pretty sure I had actually trapped the mouse in our house as I was sealing up holes- that last day I would turn around and find more poop, though we never actually saw the mouse running around. I schlepped the girls back to the ACE to buy every kind of mouse trap they had. I think I set out about 17 that night- and I left the car seat on top of the table when we went to bed. One dead mouse and two days of cleaning later, our home was vermin-free. I felt 20 million times better.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Summer 2013 Part 2: In which we go Back to the Hospital

Clearly, we are all fine. In retrospect, this story is more of a comedy of errors, but at the time it was stressful and surreal.

When we came home from the hospital, about 36 hours after TT's birth (because babies come at night, yo), we did the usual things. H and TT looked at each other, we tried to keep them safe, nursing, resting, etc. Right as H went back into her room for bed with my mom, I took my (very, very) swollen feet down from a stool where they had been propped up- I think to use the restroom- and one of my knees dislocated. This was very painful, especially as the muscles spasmed to try and move it back into place. I was very glad Rose was back in her room and not really aware of what was going on, because I did shout a bit. I wasn't sure what had happened, and wouldn't let anyone touch it. We ended up calling an ambulance (remember, I had a baby less than 48 hours ago- I was in no condition to hop to the car.) When they told me I had to stand up to get onto the stretcher, I was not very happy. But, thank God!, standing up popped it back in. (They said it might.)

Being stressed and hormonal, I let the EMT persuade me to go to the hospital. In retrospect I wish I had the confidence to turn him down, but he pulled the "you wouldn't want that to happen while you're carrying the baby" card, and I didn't have much to say to that. My dad brought TT in the car to wait in the parking lot, so she would be close if she had to nurse- I really didn't want my one-day-old baby in the ER picking up infectious diseases if we could avoid it.

And that is how TT got to try a pacifier at one day old, where H had to wait something like two months. (Ironically, TT would never, ever, use one.) My dad is the master at keeping hungry babies happy without mom, and his skills came in very useful. To this day we think they have a special bond.

The EMTs were laughing at my low pain ratings (I had just given birth!!!). Once my knee popped back in, it didn't hurt all that much, though my tailbone was still killing me (from giving birth). Riding on the stretcher in the ambulance was no fun in that regard. We all had an ironic laugh when I got there and they asked if my insurance had changed in the last six hours.

I did learn what gets you street cred in the ED: a one-day-old baby in the parking lot. Everyone was exceptionally speedy (considering it was the ED and I was not dying) except the radiology department. We had been there a couple of hours and were literally about to sign the papers to leave against medical advice without getting an x-ray, when they came to get us. Somehow the message had gotten confused, and they thought I had a one YEAR old baby in the parking lot. It became clear I did not when I was yelling about my tailbone and how I had given birth the previous day. Ironically, when they pulled me straight up from lying down after getting the x-rays (my stomach muscles were dead), I think they re-located my tailbone also. Unfortunately, that took much, much longer to heal than my knee, which has not given me a moments (physical) trouble since then- it did cause quite a bit of anxiety for a few weeks.

The only other funny story while we were there- after we had been through triage and were waiting in our room, I figured I had better go to the bathroom. As women who have given birth know, it's a little hard to tell when/how bad you have to go at first. I walked next door to the bathroom, and as I went to pull my pants down I thought I had started hemorrhaging or something- and then realized, no, I was just peeing. There was a LOT of pee- I probably had had to go since I went to stand up at home, but had totally forgotten (not that there was a lot I could have done about it.)

The X-ray was fine, and the doctor tried to get me to follow up with the sports clinic (I was leaving the state in 3 weeks and had a newborn- that never happened). The nurse told me not to do any deep squats- we both laughed. I almost cried in relief that TT had weathered the separation well and was asleep when we we got to the car. They had given me a bulky brace to wear that I couldn't even get into the car wearing (I was afraid I would dislocate something else!). Steve went and got me 3 other braces when we got home- he had to talk the manager of the CVS into opening back up for him, and then wasn't sure which kind would fit best. While he was doing that, I showered, nursed TT, and continued on resting. I just couldn't even handle being traumatized about the whole experience at the time- all of my emotions were busy, which is probably just as well!

In retrospect, I realize I probably dislocated my other knee earlier during pregnancy- we were getting on a plane to look for housing in the Slight South. Since I was standing up, I must have naturally shifted my weight to the other leg and it popped right back it. It was actually a lot more sore then than after this time- probably because the tendons were even looser after giving birth! Something to watch out for if I'm ever pregnant again.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Summer 2013 Part 1: In which TT is born

So, we had Lots. Of. Events. this past summer and fall, and we were too busy having them to blog. I thought I'd do a little series to catch up, starting with TT's birth story. Since today is Mother's Day, it seemed and appropriate day to post TT's birth story. Be warned, I don't feel it is particularly graphic, but it is- you know- a birth story. Involving lady parts and bodily functions. Continue reading at your own discretion.

TT was due June 18th, I'm pretty sure. I was sure I would be pregnant past her due date, but that did not dissuade me from hoping I would go into labor every day after 37 weeks. H had been born via planned c-section at 37 weeks due to my (her? our?) placenta previa, so this was by far the longest I had been pregnant. I was walking about a mile every evening, convinced I would be the only pregnant person to never give birth, and trying not to imagine that I would need another c-section two weeks before we had to be on a plane out of MI.

I woke up in the early morning with some leaking of what I was pretty sure was amniotic fluid with meconium. I think I woke Steve up and called the midwives, and I was trying not to rush or get to excited, since I knew it could still be a long time. Our favorite midwife was in triage, and after much discussion, examination, and testing, they decided that it was amniotic fluid, without meconium, and sent us home. I was very unsure about the meconium issue, but didn't really want to stay in the hospital if I didn't have too, and so we went home and got ready for the day. We had just enough time to make it to Library Story Time- I was eager to get in as many more of those as we could before we moved, and wanted to keep our schedule mostly regular. We also called my parents to have them come out, since we knew the baby would be coming soon, one way or another. (Maybe we even did that before- it's amazing how fuzzy the details have gotten in the last nine months!)

So we did the library, and I think we got some take-out for lunch. My parents arrived in the early afternoon, and I went for a walk, and got some moderate contractions going, and rested for a bit. Eventually, it became undeniable that there was meconium in the fluid, and the midwife said to come back in. I had some dinner, and maybe even put H to bed, and we went in. I do remember that the room they had prepared for us was one we had heard the wireless monitoring didn't work in, and so I waited and contracted on a very hard bench for an hour or so while they prepared the next one. I was worried about angering the nurses, but knew I'd have to be monitored and didn't want to be stuck with the wires.

I don't remember much about that night- I know that I was having contractions, but not progressing very far. Our doula went home and got some sleep in the early hours of the morning, and came back later the next afternoon. We had been alternating trying to rest and trying walk and move around to get labor moving. My doula gave me a very relaxing massage on my legs as I rested on my hands and knees against the bed. We rested for a few hours in the afternoon; usually just as I was falling asleep I'd have an intense contraction, need to get up and use the bathroom, and then try and settle back down. All the time we were in the hospital laboring, storms kept sweeping across the area- we had a picture window overlooking the arboretum, and it was beautiful and surreal.

That evening, it was time to try pitocin- we had been in the hospital about 24 hours and I was definitely not progressing. The nurse started me on a very low dose, we went for some walks, and nothing was really happening. The next nurse moved it up more- 2?- I remember thinking I might ask to to only move it up half as much as she did, which was what the original nurse had planned, but I wanted to get this done with! I remember walking the halls, pausing for contractions but not really feeling too far gone, and seeing another (rough looking!) mom walking the hall with her newborn and partner, and our doula saying that would be us in a few hours! I felt very incredulous that an actual baby was going to come out of me, but I was desperate to no longer be pregnant!

Once we got back to our room, things picked up a bit- our doula turned down the lights, and I stood at the end of the bed willing the baby to come down with the contractions, watching the monitor. I remember E and the doula talking quietly, and knowing they thought I couldn't really hear- even though I was aware of what was going on, I wasn't in the mood to talk, and besides there wasn't much time between contractions anyway. Steve couldn't find my chap stick and tried to pass off the doula's as mine; I was onto him because her kind, which I also own, makes me nauseous during pregnancy (peppermint! Isn't that unfortunate?)

Eventually the pain was intense enough I wanted to get in the bath; there was a brief slowing of labor when I got in the tub. But, after a seemingly very short time, things picked back up and I felt I needed to push soon. The midwife came in and checked me- I think I was at a 7 or an 8?- and left again. By now I was very emotional, and almost as soon as she walked out, I said I was already pushing and to call her back in! Around this time I had some very strong, involuntary pushes- it felt like vomiting, but down instead of up! I had never heard of this, and found it very disturbing. The midwife came back and I'm pretty sure she stretched me out to a 10, and said I was cleared to push! I gave a few pushes in the tub, but when someone suggested I might be having trouble because of the water, I agreed and decided to get out. (I LOVED our hospital; they would have been happy for me to deliver in the tub if I wanted!) I was also very distressed that I might have a BM in the water- they weren't concerned, but I felt it was unsanitary to have a baby be born into poopy water!

I only made it halfway onto the bed before I felt the baby was coming, and stopped moving with one leg stuck up on the pushing bar! I was trying to go gently to avoid tearing, but it seemed TT's heart rate was slowing down, or they were having trouble finding it, and they got our consent to put a scalp electrode on her. I figured since the baby was in distress, I'd have to just push it out, tearing be d*mned, and out she came before they ever got the monitor put on! They announced it was a girl and laid her on me. I had been very concerned about the placenta coming out, after the problems we'd had with H, but it's true what they say- I barely even noticed, though I do remember being glad when it was out and done. I felt SO much better with that baby out! We cuddled for a few mintues- probably quite a while, I even nursed her a bit- and E cut the cord. Eventually they took her away and wrapped her up, because my tearing was quite extensive. The midwife called in the gynocology resident, who called in the attending, who decided she could try and stitch it up there as opposed to in the OR. This was really quite painful, largely because I couldn't shift my position to relieve the pain on my tailbone (I'm pretty sure it had dislocated during the labor and birth). Once I found out an OR trip would mean general anesthesia, I "womaned up" and was more stoic! Around this time my blood pressure also became very, very low- around 50/30- and my doula fed me almonds, drinks, and even a turkey sandwich while I lay flat on my back! We took a short break for a few minutes once the team realized what we were doing, since they were still thinking about general anesthesia- but soon after they decided against it, and we carried on. It took quite a while- many hours or even a day or so- for my blood pressure to go all the way back up and for me to feel comfortable sitting and standing. When they first suggested moving rooms, I said I could not sit up, and if they needed to move me they needed to do it with me lying down. We stayed a few more hours =)

Overall, I remember thinking that perhaps I would give an epidural a little more thought if we had another baby, but now that the amnesia has kicked in it doesn't seem so bad. I was surprised how bad I felt those first days and weeks- my tailbone was a real problem- but it's true that my recovery was much, much faster than after a c-section! The memory of holding her immediately after is a very sweet one for me.