Jul 28 2010

Learning

Despite the fact that Davy doesn’t do a lot besides eat and sleep, I can tell that he’s also learning. For example, we have a Boppy pillow that we use for nursing: when Davy is hungry and fussing, he’ll stop his crying as soon as he’s laid into position on the Boppy. He’s learned that being on the Boppy means the milk is coming soon.

Also, when he first got home from the hospital, we remarked on how well Davy slept in the bassinet. This was in marked in contrast to Robin, who caused us to rename it “the baby wake-up box.”

Well, guess what? In those first days I guess Davy didn’t know enough to care where he slept: one place was as good as another. But he has learned that sleeping alone in a bassinet is just not as nice as sleeping cuddled up to Mommy or Daddy. So now when he finds himself put down alone, Davy will cry until he’s picked up again.

This makes my life marginally harder, but I’m pleased to see the little dude already starting to make choices and express preferences. They are simple baby preferences, but they are his and they represent the first fruits of his exploration into the world.


Jul 26 2010

First World Problems

I just booked an appointment with a housekeeping service to come and do a “deep cleaning” of our home. I actually wasn’t going to write about this at all, because I’ve read enough tortured, self-justifying blog posts by feminists who can’t stomach the idea of letting another woman scrub their toilets (but who, nonetheless, don’t want to do it themselves) that I certainly don’t want to contribute to the genre.

But the truth is I am not tortured at all. I’ve posted on this subject before, but when I first quit my job in anticipation of Robin’s arrival, I guess I probably had some idea that it would be amusing and frivolous to “play house” for awhile in 50’s style aprons. The reality of childcare and housekeeping slapped me on both sides of my face pretty quickly. I’ve done a one-eighty, and now am prepared to fiercely battle anyone who belittles traditional “women’s work.” It’s necessary work, it’s hard work, it’s honorable work, and I’m pretty sure that the stigma against housewives in modern American culture is just a symptom of ingrained sexism.

So because I now completely respect this women’s work, I don’t have a shred of guilt in paying another woman to do it for me. Frankly, between my two little boys I barely have the time (and physical reserves) to get dinner on the table and keep the house in some superficial semblance of order. The deep cleaning is not getting done, and I’ve started to notice ants crawling across the floors and between the cushions of the sofa. I have this choice: a) park my toddler in front of the TV and let my infant scream while I clean the house properly; b) live in squalor; or c) pay another woman a fair living wage to do the housecleaning for me, because women have wised up and you can no longer get a decent housekeeper for less than thirty-five dollars an hour (plus tips), at least in the Bay Area.

I find C a no-brainer. Providing for our new housekeeper in the budget won’t be trivial, but if we’re being infested with ants while my husband is home and contributing to the daily routine, I shudder to think of how things will get once he goes back to work. I did the research, I made the calls, and our housekeeper will be here for the first time next Wednesday. I feel an overwhelming sense of relief, and nothing else.

So I’m posting this as a kind of counterbalance to all the whinging, self-flagellating posts by self-described feminists who nonetheless cannot wrap their heads around the idea that housecleaning might be a suitable occupation for an adult woman. The emotion you are looking for is not guilt, it’s gratitude—and just about the same level of gratitude that you’d feel towards a competent plumber who stopped your toilet from spraying sewage everywhere. It’s a job. It’s hard job, a necessary job, an honorable job: so tip your housekeeper, and be grateful.


Jul 25 2010

A Well-Proportioned Schnozzle

Davy’s Nanita was very keen that I remedy the slight against him delivered by the last post. “His nose isn’t THAT big!” she said indignantly. “Your picture was just taken at a funny angle!” So at her insistence, here is another picture, showing that Davy’s honker really isn’t so huge:

It’s true, his nose is a perfectly reasonable size for his face. Although I insist, with pride, on calling it “Romanesque.”


Jul 25 2010

What’s for Dinner

Yesterday’s veggie box held: a pint of cherry tomatoes (YAY! OUR FIRST TOMATOES OF THE SUMMER!), a bag of green beans, two pints of strawberries, a big bunch of basil, a cabbage, a bunch of carrots, four zucchinis, four plums (YUM), three onions, and a couple pounds of what look like Yukon Gold potatoes. And I am pleased as punch to add in the first fruits from my own backyard: growing wild in the jungle back there are blackberries and edible amaranth greens, and our neighbor has a fig tree that hangs over into our yard.

Tonight we’ll have hamburgers and green beans (I’ve been using this recipe for buffalo burgers—it works with grass-fed beef as well), with a plum and blackberry crisp for dessert (inspiration: Wendolonia). And tomorrow, a big pot of pesto. At some point I’ll also make a cherry tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad for our lunch.

I’m hoping to find some corned beef (the grocery store doesn’t always carry it) so that Tuesday we can have corned beef and cabbage with boiled potatoes and carrots. Then Wednesday we can make corned beef sandwiches. Thursday, I think some sort of grilled fish? And Friday will be for leftovers. The strawberries we’ve been eating with yogurt and granola for our breakfasts, and we may start adding figs if they ripen this week!


Jul 24 2010

A Picture and a Recipe

Here’s your daily baby:

He’s got quite some nose on him, hasn’t he?

And here’s the recipe for zucchini fritters, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated:

First you need to shred a pound of zucchini. You can do this with a box grater, but it’s a lot easier if you have a food processor with a shredder attachment. Toss the shredded zucchini with a teaspoon of salt and let it drain in a colander for ten minutes. Then wrap it in a kitchen towel and press out as much liquid as you can.

Put the dried zucchini in a large bowl with half a pound of feta cheese and two eggs, lightly beaten (or you can do what I do, which is crack the eggs to the side of the bowl and just stir them up a bit right there). Mince up a couple of scallions, two tablespoons of dill, and a clove of garlic, and add it to the other ingredients in the bowl. Grind some black pepper on top (about 1/4 teaspoon). Mix up everything in the bowl: it’s easiest to use your hands, to be honest, but you could use a spatula if you don’t want to get messy.

When everything is reasonably well combined, sprinkle 1/4 cup flour on top and stir that in too.

Put three tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and heat it (over medium flame) until shimmering. Drop your zucchini mixture in by two-tablespoon spoonfuls: you should get six fritters in the pan at a time. Use a spatula to press the fritters down into the shape of small, fat pancakes. Fry ’em until they’re golden brown, about five minutes per side. Put them on a paper-towel lined plate while you fry the second batch of fritters (add more oil to the pan if you need to).

The recipe can be easily doubled if you have more zucchini.


Jul 14 2010

One-Week Vitals

I knew Davy was a first-rate nurser, but at our check-in with the pediatrician today we learned that he clocks in in now at 7 pounds 4 ounces. The doctor was pretty stunned. To put this in perspective: all babies lose weight in their first days of life. (Davy had lost four ounces from his birth weight of 6 pounds 11 ounces when we had his last weigh-in on Thursday.) Pediatricians want to see babies regain their birth weight by the end of two weeks. So it’s pretty impressive that our little champ has not only hit his birth weight already, but packed on an extra half a pound to boot!

I also feel it’s a vindication for my on-demand nursing policy. The nurses at UCSF, like those at CPMC, strongly push a version of scheduled nursing: if the baby’s gone three hours without nursing, they want you to wake him up for a feeding. We did this with Robin and it caused a lot of stress. Waking up a sleeping newborn isn’t so easy: you can strip them down so the cold wakes them up, or tickle their feet until they wake, or various other methods that all feel like baby torture. The babies don’t like it; they wake up angry, and if you’re already having trouble getting nursing established then starting a feeding session with an exhausted, outraged infant certainly doesn’t put you on the best footing. My mom watched us struggling with the three-hour feeding schedule and broke her scrupulously non-critical stance to observe that it seemed like madness to her.

So this time around, when the nurses dropped by to check our feeding logs and remind me that it was time to wake Davy up, I nodded and smiled and let him sleep. (I know why they do this. A starving baby is a very sleepy baby: they don’t have the energy to fuss. I still think it’s senseless to treat a healthy baby the same way you would one that’s having genuine problems with nutrition.) As a result, sometimes Davy sleeps for four hours, and sometimes he wants to nurse for an hour and a half straight. But he gets to sleep when he’s tired and nurse when he’s hungry. And clearly it’s working well for him!


Jul 13 2010

Book Reviews: YA

So I have a lot of enforced downtime these days, as Davy needs to nurse every few hours, and while I’m feeding him I really can’t do much besides read or browse the Internet. So it’s a good opportunity to catch up on my reading pile.

Here, by the way, is a photo I snapped of Davy a few minutes ago. He’s a week old today! He’s pinking up and plumping out, which is nice to see: in those first few days he bore a noticeable resemblance to Dobby the House Elf. But now he just looks like a sweet little baby.

Anyway, here’s some quick reviews of four fantasy Young Adult books. I like the YA genre; the books are short but the stories are often really good.

Karen Healey, Guardian of the Dead

This is the most substantial of the four novels. I read it after I’d bought a string of disappointing urban fantasy books aimed at adults (I’ll do separate reviews of these in another post), and so it was a great relief to drop into the competence of Healey’s writing and storytelling. I know “competence” sounds like damning-with-faint-praise, but what I mean is that her writing isn’t flashy or self-aware&#8212it just works. Her characters (especially the main) are nuanced and believable, and the magic in the book, which is drawn from native New Zealand mythology, offers a refreshing change from the standard fantasy clich├ęs. I mean, the plot observes some conventionalities—there’s a boarding-school girl who’s sort of an ugly duckling (although not really, because although she’s heavy-set she actually feels pretty much fine about it, and she’s a tae kwon do black belt, so that’s awesome) and as Weird Stuff starts happening around her she ends up discovering some magic talents, and there’s A Boy who she fights with but really likes… But in every specific aspect the story is grounded in New Zealand culture and Maori folklore, which, like I said, makes it feel new and fresh.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, Eternal

Okay, if books were food, then Guardian of the Dead would be a hearty beef stew: chewy, filling, full of different ingredients. Eternal, on the other hand, would be a stick of cotton candy. For what it is, it’s good—light, sweet fluff that appeals on a pretty immature level. The hook is a pretty good one: what if a teenage girl was turned into a vampire, but she had a guardian angel who was willing to sacrifice everything in an attempt to redeem her soul? It’s just that the execution is very broad and obvious. There’s no surprises here: the angel is hot, the girl is beautiful (at least, after she’s vampirized), they fall in Tragic Lurve, and eventually they team up to fight crime, or at least some particularly nasty vampires.

I probably would have loved this book if I were still in the targeted YA age range: certainly it’s a big step up from the Sweet Valley High books that I was reading back in the day, and probably right on the level of a book like Darkangel, which I haven’t read in twenty years but remember being quite smitten with at the time. Now, my favorite parts were the interactions among the angels, which are quite funny in a Heavenly Bureaucracy kind of way. I also appreciated the detailed descriptions of Vampire Girl’s luxe wardrobe, although I was pretty discomfited by the equal time given over to the interior decor of her mansion: a Scottish castle with battleaxes on the walls but Prairie-style settles and rugs? Really? I don’t think Frank Lloyd Wright would have approved.

Janni Lee Simner, Bones of Faerie

This book wrecked me. It’s good proof, if any were needed, that YA doesn’t always pull its punches. To continue the books-as-food metaphor: this novel would be a lychee-fruit granita, simple but sophisticated, with a flavor both familiar and unexpected. Here’s the first few lines:

I had a sister once. She was a beautiful baby, eyes silver as moonlight off the river at night. From the hour of her birth she was long-limbed and graceful, faerie-pale hair clear as glass from Before, so pale you could almost see through to the soft skin beneath.

My father was a sensible man. He set her out on the hillside that very night…

In beautiful and savage prose, the book tells the story of a daughter who saves her mother. So there’s redemption—just not quite enough to go around. The story is haunted by the ghost of the baby who dies in the first pages, and in some ways it is simply an elegy, with a resolution that isn’t fully cathartic because it doesn’t pretend to hold an end to mourning.

Mary Borsellino, The Wolf House #3: Fair Game

I reviewed the first of this series on another blog, saying

This is an e-book, and written by an e-friend of mine. I enjoyed it a lot, so much so that I immediately started thinking it was a shame that this book wasn’t traditionally published. I think the conventional editing process would have polished the story a little; but on the other hand, this way it’s only $4.95. If you can stand reading longer works on the computer, The Wolf House is totally worth it.

Mary describes the book as “trashy vampire YA,” and I think I see why she’s slapping the “trashy” label on: this is a universe where all the teen protagonists are bisexual and hot, and there’s a fair amount of spit swapped between characters of all sexes and types, although none of it drawn in any detail (it’s YA after all!). I was personally more interested in the friendships, because these are drawn in achingly precise, if confused and incestuous, detail, making me remember in every bit of my 33-year-old bones exactly the way it felt to be 16 when your friends are your whole world.

Plus, the vampire mythology in the world is fresh and intriguing, raising many more questions that it answers (as is appropriate for book 1 in a series). The writing is professional and controlled, never dragging you out of the plot. I’m still kind of sorry that Mary chose to go with an e-publisher, because I think these books deserve a wider audience—but I can’t deny that the modern publishing structure is pretty f*cked, and so I also admire Mary for going it alone. I think anyone who liked Buffy should ask themselves whether $4.95 is too much to pay for a scrappy, passionate, well-drawn vampire story.

With Fair Game, the third book in the series, Mary is really finding her stride. She has a large cast of characters and switching between voices can produce a disjointed effect (I felt this most keenly in the second book), but in Fair Game she’s become really good at weaving the separate strands of story into a cohesive whole. The stakes are clearer—the sense of threat ramped up—and there are some good answers provided to the questions earlier books raised about the ground rules of this world.

I enjoyed Origins and Overtures, but I think Fair Game is operating on a higher level of craft. I’m itching now for the next book in the series.


Jul 10 2010

What’s for Dinner

Today’s veggie box brought us: green beans, strawberries, lettuce, carrots, broccoli, celery, kale, red potatoes, and zucchini. Tonight we’re talking about Indian delivery, but tomorrow I’ll make a brown rice pilaf with broccoli and chicken.

Monday I’m thinking beef stroganoff and green beans. Tuesday, another round of the bulgur salad with kale, because it’s easy and healthy and Robin likes it. Wednesday, I want to try this recipe for cream of celery soup, although I’ll have to cut the quantities as there’s no way we’d eat six quarts of soup before it went off. I’ll make a salad too.

The zucchini fritters I made last night were tasty enough that I think we’d like to see another go-round, so Thursday I’ll do another batch, alongside boiled carrots and potatoes with butter and dill. I should post the recipe… Then Friday will be for leftovers. The strawberries we’ll eat with yogurt for our breakfasts, and with ice cream for our desserts.


Jul 10 2010

He Has His Doubts About All This


Jul 9 2010

At Home

The Mehserle verdict came down yesterday, and as expected, there was some violence in Oakland—although the majority of the protests were peaceful.

Officials said the main instigators appeared to be organized ‘anarchist’ agitators wearing black clothing and hoods. Many of the most aggressive demonstrators smashing the windows of banks and shops were white.

So those people are obviously real winners. Most of them probably don’t even live in Oakland, and couldn’t care less about the Mehserle case: they just want to go out looting.

But as for us, we’re at home getting to know little Davy. So far it’s been a pleasure watching Robin absorb the fact of his new little brother:

He’s nice with the baby, quick to give him kisses and pats, and when we’re nursing he likes to come sit by us and chat with me. I encourage him to tell Davy all about choo-choos, which he does quite happily. Robin, I think, is amazingly good at adjusting to changes: he took the move to the new house in stride, and it looks like he’s accepted Davy just as easily.

We’ve taken a few outings together as a family, with the boys each in their separate carseats, but yesterday when we were making a quick trip to a pharmacy we left Davy napping at home with his Pappy. As we started the car Robin pointed over to the empty carseat, and said “Baby! Baby!” with some alarm. We had to assure him that we hadn’t forgotten the baby!

As for Davy, it’s hard to get much of a sense of his personality, but he’s got his baby skills down. He’s great at nursing, he can get his fingers directly into his mouth, and he likes to cuddle. A-plus baby!