Saturday, July 31, 2010

Unexpected delights

If I had known we were going to be around all summer, I would have planted a garden.

Yet, I found myself cultivating this little beauty that popped up from a potted plant.

A renegade tomato plant! Some of the joys of composting come as a surprise.

We already ate two tomotoes and there are two more growing.

Nothing feels more like summer than a fresh tomato.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Reading again

I have been trying to be more dedicated about reading. I used to be an avid reader. It makes me sad to say “ I used to be”. I was so excited to read when I was four and couldn’t wait for kindergarten. All through my childhood I devoured books. As a teenager, I would stay up all night because I couldn’t put a book down. I could finish monumental books, of a thousand pages, like Gone with the Wind, in a matter of days (I also read a lot of Jude Devoreaux... teehee). In college, during winter breaks, I would average about a book a day (loved Herman Hesse, Kafka, and Dostoyeksky).

My life is fuller now and I have to delicately balance much more: there are other obligations to be met, relationships to be nurtured, and even other interests (running, cooking) that have to weigh in. Graduate school also took a toll on my lust for reading. After reading so much for classes, the last thing I wanted to do in my free time was pick up a book. And there was so much guilt if I picked up a book for pleasure, because graduate reading is never really finished, there is always more to read, more to learn.

Yet, recently, I have found myself yearning for good books, wanting to lose myself in someone else’s story, desiring to learn about something fascinating, longing for that sense of awe when wandering around a bookstore and thirsting for that sense of urgency to finish other bothersome obligations so I can get back to a book. So, I have started reading… again… in earnest.

The hardest part, after such a prolonged absence, is choosing a book. There is something about not having endless hours to read that makes me want to choose something worthwhile, something well-written, a kind of quality that resonates in your heart and resounds in your mind for years when you think of the book, something I will not gladly give up after 50 pages (like the Diary of Anais Nin… why, oh why can I not get into that book, when I so want to?) Yet, I also want a good story, something to lose myself in for a few hours when the house is dark and quiet, something that will be difficult to put down…

Clearly, I am not that much of a book snob… I did read this series over Thanksgiving weekend. But after years studying literature academically, I do have some elitist notions about “good literature”, so choosing books is sometimes difficult for me. I have been out of the reading loop, the real avid reading loop, for so long that it has been a struggle to put together a reading list of books that I want to read. This is further complicated by reading reviews of books online. I am on Goodreads, which has been both a bane and a benefit as far as choosing books. It has given me tons of ideas. But then I read the reviews of perfectly random strangers and I get cold feet. Negative reviews can be wrong though.

In the past few weeks I have read:

Life of Pi… and despite all of my literary training, I took the story at face value, a boy and a tiger in a life-raft. I liked it that way, no need for allegories of any kind.

Julie and Julia… and I was not irked that it was less about food and more about her personal crisis at 30.

The Heretic’s Daughter… brilliant, fascinating and it did not bother me one bit that it was written from the point of view of a young girl; there was nothing missing from the story.

Now I am reading Comfort Me with Apples (interested in food memoirs right now for some reason, but Reichl’s first memoir was not in at the library) and Middlesex.

I am sometimes skittish about giving book recommendations… I mean, if you ask me about a specific book that I have read and have memory of reading, I will tell you if I liked it or not… but if you ask: “what should I read?” I’ll say Brothers Karamazov or Anna Karenina or something and you’ll look at me crazy and never ask me again. But I always notice book recommendations of others and look them up, write them down. I have siphoned titles from other blogs I read that have mentioned books or asked for recommendations. I have even asked several blogging friends about what good books they have read recently and I am putting together a bit of a list.

So, recommendations? what do you got for me? I need a long list, because between the library and the used bookstore, it is luck of the draw.

I’ll even be brave and give you one: The God of Small Things (Roy, A.) –poignant story, beautifully written—even the title is heart-stopping.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On parenting, the ultimate killjoy, and why I chose it

I recently read this blog post that was inspired, in part, from this fascinating article (and fascinating comments) in New York Magazine. There is so much to say that I am afraid I will only touch on it superficially, but it is too interesting to pass up.

In a nutshell, the article discusses whether or not having kids makes people happier. Personally, I think they got the question wrong. Well, actually, I don’t know what the question is, but I don’t think it is about happiness. But, I’ll get back to that in a minute.

There are a lot of truthful gems in the article:

a) Mothers, on the whole, are less happy than fathers (shocker!) and single parents are even less happy.

b) of 19 possible activities, one study found that women rated child care 16th in terms of pleasurability: coming in as less pleasurable than napping, shopping, exercising, and even ranked lower than food prep and housework.

c) My favorite quote: “They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit”

We got together with two childless (child-free?) couples this last weekend. Both couples have pets, which they dote on more than we dote on our kids… just an interesting aside. Of course, any similarities with life with pets vs. kids ended as one couple described going out to lunch to watch the World Cup final, drinking 3 margaritas and taking a 3-hour nap. I thought to myself: “Wow, I can’t even remember what that kind of freedom feels like.” 3 daytime margaritas and a 3-hour nap is unheard of in the pack that I run with.

Now, obviously, I am not anti-kid: I have two of the little buggers running around half-naked somewhere. I mentioned the article to my husband this evening as we watched them playing in ecstasy together with a little piece of rope, laughing until they had hiccoughs, running, falling, giggling, hugging. He said: “This is pure joy.” I countered: “and in 5 minutes it will all be ruined as we fight them to get PJs on and teeth brushed and into bed.” Life is like that with kids: there are moments of intense joy and moments of intense frustration.

What the article brings to light, although it is nothing new for parents, is that parenting is not all joy. There is a lot of struggle, a lot of hard decisions, and lot of responsibility, there is competition and comparisons, there is school work and good manners, hygiene and hidden talents to find, and most of all, a lot of tedium and good old-fashioned hard work. The more kids you have, the more work there is, the bigger the strain on your relationship with your spouse, the harder it is to balance career, me-time, socializing, personal growth, etc.

The article discusses the impact of kids on relationships… as being potentially detrimental because kids are such big stressors. For me personally, having kids has both improved and detracted from my relationship with my husband. The only thing we have ever really argued about is distribution of household labor. Having kids has had a way of magnifying all the little inequalities of the relationship. Because I am the one who picks up after the kids, if my husband leaves something out carelessly, he gets a “gentle reminder.” When household chores and child-related duties are not even close to fairly distributed and we are both exhausted, tensions really escalate.

Yet, having kids has also helped our relationship grow. There is nothing sweeter than watching your husband help the kids repot their little tomato plants or giving the kids a bath. There is something divine in getting to see your husband in your kids’ little faces and getting to see your husband through your kids’ eyes.

This is one of the curious juxtapositions of life: when you have the energy, and the house is clean and the kids are in bed and you don’t want to boot him to the curb or scratch his eyes out, your relationship with your spouse is richer, deeper, and more fulfilling.

To me it is odd that there is an article claiming that parenthood won’t necessarily make you happy. I guess my response is “Duh!” I don’t think kids are the answer to happiness, much like fame, fortune, good looks, and a fabulous job don’t seem to be very good answers. Humans are funny when it comes to predicting our own happiness. Mostly, I don’t think we know what will make us happy. Of course, when you imagine yourself as a parent before becoming one, you always imagine one of those moments of utter joy and baby bliss, never one of the moments of tedium, so I can see where the misunderstanding comes from.

I am not trying to convince anyone of anything, really, just entering into dialogue with you and with myself. I know we have a lot of choices today as far as how we form families and I know that some people don’t have as many choices as others, either circumstances or biology or psychology…

Yet, the question of whether or not to have children is so interesting. Apart from the biological imperative, I am not sure why people want kids, like specific reasons. I always wanted kids, it was never really a question of if, but when (of course, I insanely thought four would be the perfect number and have since repented). At one point, when I thought I wouldn’t get the chance to have kids, I was devastated (and I try to remember that at certain melt-downish moments). But I am not sure I could verbalize why I wanted kids. I am not judgmental about choices, but I am honestly not sure why some couples decide not to have kids. Are some people just not meant to be parents? Is it selfish to remain child-free? Is it selfish and vain to insist on having kids in a world such as ours?

I get it: having kids changes your life for a long time. I get it: parenting is not all about reaping emotional rewards. But what in life IS all about joy and happiness? What aspects of life don’t suck up your time and aren’t dull and tedious sometimes? What major life changes aren’t hard on a relationship?

For me, there are definitely valuable lessons to be learned from parenting (and perhaps they can be learned through other experiences as well, I don’t know): selflessness, sacrifice, priorities, simplicity, sweetness, patience, compromise, importance, trivialities. They are lessons I learn and relearn every day. Some days I am tested and I fail, others I pass with flying colors. To me, being a parent is about loving someone more than myself, it is about learning to share my time and put others first, it is the ultimate journey of self-discovery and finding the ways in which I am like my mother and the ways in which I am not, it is that unmistakable sweetness in belonging to something bigger than me.

The end of article is fascinating. One point the author makes, that I have always said, is that most regrets are about things you didn’t do: very few people regret having kids, but quite a few regret that they didn’t (some don’t regret not having kids, I know). Then she briefly mentions a paradoxical study that found that women with children were less depressed than their childless counterparts, in part because the study was more about existential matters and less about momentary happiness, per se, which is fleeting, at best, and possibly non-existent. The author questions, as I did, whether the notion of happiness as it was used in many of the studies (as moment-to-moment happiness) is adequate to represent the gamut of emotion involved in parenting.

Then she mentions words like transcendence and purpose and retrospective gratification and you say, ah yes!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

jeepers creepers: things I won't miss

One of the things I will not miss about Texas is all of the scary stinging and biting critters. We pretty much have everything that stings or bites: snakes, scorpions, spiders, and a large variety of wasps and other stinging insects.

We live right by a fairly wild park. There is a playground, trails for hiking, biking, horseback-riding, a creek, a walking/running circuit of about 1.2 miles, etc. I will miss the park immensely; it was one of the main reasons I wanted to live in the neighborhood we live in. I knew I wouldn't run reguarly unless I didn't have to travel by car to do it. We go there at least once a day, with the kids to the playground or to throw rocks in the creek, go for bike rides or walks, and we take turns going running.

For a city park, there is quite a bit of animal life: we have seen deer, armadillos, road runners, rabbits, tons of birds--cardinals, egrets, geese, etc. We have also seen snakes. Well, I have seen them. My hubs is kind of jealous because he never seems to run into them like I do. For as much as I run at dusk, I really haven't seen that many, maybe 7 or 8 times. Some have been small, some long, but all non-venemous.

Until yesterday... when I almost stepped on one of these:

... a coral snake...My foot came down right in front of its head... but it turned back, startled, and slithered back into the bushes

It happend right after reading this article online talking about the shortage of anti-venom.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010


For some reason, or many, it has been hard to get around to posting. But I need to post something so you can get over my last post on tampons and vasectomies.

I got tagged by Brooke over at Txting Mr Darcy. I guess it is officially an award, but I am going to call it a tag because I think a blogging award is somewhat unmerited… and then I am only going to follow the rules I want to: I am rebellious and irreverent that way. I will thank her because it was lovely of her to think of me. Thank you, Brooke!

I have actually been avoiding this post because it is one of those meme things, where I have to tell you 7 things about me that you don’t know. I have been wracking my brain, I tell you. I think you guys probably know me better than some of my siblings do. Also, I wrote this and pretty much covered ALL the things there are to know about me. So I will now write just totally random things from the bizarre recesses of my little head.

1. I love cheddar cheese on my Spaghetti (all Italians now shudder in disgust and muttering something about “stupid brute Americans”). I can’t help it, it was the way I was raised. And it was the first meal I had once after a stomach virus and it is forever carved into my memory as the BEST MEAL EVER!

2. My first “French” kiss was at 13 in my basement with a boy who had just drunk beer. I thought the taste was so foul, I excused myself and went upstairs to wash out my mouth. I still can’t drink beer, but I can now stomach kissing a certain beer-drinker.

3. My favorite perfume is Carolina Herrera’s 212. I love it. It is my fragrance and for years (12) the only one I wore (I recently got a new perfume as a gift that I like quite a bit). I am very possessive of 212. If my sisters say they might buy it, I freak out a little and tell them it is MINE, my scent, and they need to go find their own.

4. There is a teeny tiny part of me that loves country… music, dancing, cowboys and I have even contemplated on several occasions the purchase of cowboy boots.

5. These are my favorite underwear. They are cute (enough). They are cotton. They ride low but don’t ride up or in between. I will never understand the thong underwear craze. Buy some and come back and thank me because they will make your tush look cute.

Thinking thinking, stretching stretching… seven things is a lot of things. OMG There has to be something else in there...

6. I wanted to be a librarian when I was little. It was my first career goal. I used to make my brothers and sisters check out books from our bookshelves. I believe some of them still owe me over-due fines… plus interest.

ahhhhhh just one more... thinkthinkthinkthink....

7. I want to run a marathon--which may not be something you don't know actually. I already run quite a bit, I could run a half marathon if I wanted, so that doesn't feel like big enough goal; I just need to seriously train for the complete one. Maybe before I am 40... which is not that far off... good god!

So, the last rule is that I am supposed to pass it on, but I am shy about that, so I won't, but if anyone wants to play, consider yourself tagged...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The TMI post: Tampons, IUDs, and cups... oh my!

I have the amazing capacity to get myself worked up into a tizzy by something that hasn’t even happened and may never happen. Does anyone else do that? You know, you have conversations with someone in your head and you get upset about it…

I will now warn my zero male viewers that the rest of this post will deal with menstruation and contraception, so if you are squeamish and want to click back over to ESPN, I will not feel rejected or mistreated.

I am not sure where to start… so, let’s start with contraception. I have two kids and for many, many reasons, that is enough. My husband, like many Chileans, is convinced that three is the magic number. I have told him: a) when men can bear children he can go for a third; b) he can have as many as he wants with his second wife; but c) I will not be having a third baby.

So after baby number two, I broached the issue of contraception. I wanted something long-term/permanent, but for a few reasons, I did not want a tubal ligation. I had kind of decided that a vasectomy was the way to go: minimally invasive, low likelihood of damage or problems and a pretty good success rate. The only other option was an IUD.

To make a long story short: I have an IUD. It is the Paraguard, or the copper T (ironically, the IUD my mother-in-law was using decades ago when she became pregnant with her youngest. But nothing is 100%, you know you have to accept a small margin of error.) The upside: it has no hormones. I have never taken birth control pills and I have just never felt comfortable with the idea of hormones. And seriously… I have BEEN pregnant; I do not want to take anything that tricks my body into thinking it is pregnant.

To make a short story long again, I was absolutely furious. The initial "get a vasectomy" conversation did not go well. I know most men aren’t really comfortable with the idea of getting snipped, and knowing my husband I knew he would be really, really uncomfortable with the idea. Yet, I felt I had sacrificed enough. He didn’t want to totally block the possibility of having a third. I assured him that I was not going to be having a third. He said you never know. I said I knew…. And so on and so forth…

I fumed, literally, for days, and finally I reasoned that I was the one who didn’t want more kids. If we were to part ways or if something were to happen to me (god forbid, of course) then he might eventually be in a place where he would or could have more kids. So I let it go.

Still, I cried when I went to get it put in, not about the babies I wouldn't be having, but reading about possible complications, uterine rupture and all that. But, it has been more than two years and there have been no problems.

Well, actually for a few months (or a year, whatever) I had the worst PMS in the history of the universe. I mean, I was homicidal for a good two weeks of the month. It was exacerbated by the nagging thought it my head that it was the copper T’s fault—due to copper toxicity or something, which was by default my husband’s fault for what I called “not taking any contraceptive responsibility.” I talked to my doctor she gave me some ideas and said it was probably due more to my age than anything else. Thanks Doc!

From my IUD I am going to jump to menstruation. First, I’ll say that I wish your body would just shut that function off when your brain had decided it was no longer biologically necessary and then I wouldn’t have to deal with this next issue.

I am a tampon girl. At 14 or 15, after the first awkward months of having a period and using pads, my step-mom suggested trying tampons. It was kind of scary and I remember crying in frustration trying to get it inserted correctly. But once I figured it out-- I never looked back.

Why am I talking about tampons anyway? Well, tampons are not very common in Chile. Most Chilean women don’t use them (something vaguely about being Catholic and fears of losing their virginity—which they may wish to re-define). Tampons are hard to find in Chile; there is no variety; they are expensive. This was the case 10 years ago, anyway. My husband suggested that it may have changed, but from what I have read recently by other ex-pats it is very much the same. I used to send my mom money to ship me boxes and boxes of OBs, for almost 4 years.

Rather than carry a 5-year supply down there with me, I looked into other options… well, THE other option, the menstrual cup. I tried the Diva cup. It took me a long time just to get up the nerve—is it that weird of an idea? Yes, I think it is a little weird.

Maybe it takes time to get used to??? But I tried it for a cycle and was not sold. It is a little messy, I can’t imagine having to do it in a public bathroom. I couldn’t seem to get it situated quite right. I couldn’t feel it; it didn’t hurt, but it kept kind of leaking, just a little.

The box says not to use it with an IUD, but checking online I saw that many women do. I called my OB and asked her; she said it was fine, so I bought one. The first day I used it I had some cramping. I hadn’t had cramps for a long time so, naturally I started worrying about it:

What if it dislodged my IUD?
What if it comes out, like I pull out the cup and my IUD is in it?
But the Dr. said it would work fine… what if she is wrong?
What if I am like the 1% of people who have issues with using both?
If it comes out, I am not getting it put back in… I won’t do it, I already did it once.
He’ll have to get a vasectomy
What if he refuses?
would I do?
Well, there would be no sex…
That would be miserable!
What if he just never gave in and didn’t get it done?
Would I leave him?

Yes, that bastard…

I got myself all worked up.

Later, I told the hubs about my mental conversation with him and how upset I was with him for his potential refusal, and how I was making ultimatums and such. I kindly suggested that if the situation should arise that my IUD comes out for whatever reason, it will not be going back in, and that when I tell him that he needs to get the V-job, he should seriously, seriously consider it because I have already resolved to leave him if he doesn’t.

I might give the cup another chance, but I don’t know if I can do the menstrual cup thing. I am bringing it as back up, but it looks like 5 years of tampons it is. I just bought like 20 boxes of OBs

… and my US peeps should be on full alert for tampon requests…

…that and baking chocolate…

Was that waaaaay too much personal information, or what?