Monday, August 31, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Monkey

The classic movie starring Clint Eastwood as the 'Man With No Name' inspired this awesome sock monkey - another superstar monkey created just for us by Siansburys on etsy.

Sian is a whiz at creating movie star monkeys, so long as they come with weapons.

She's done Capt. Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Carribean, William Wallace from Braveheart and Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars. She's also done a Die Hard monkey and Indiana Jones.

When my dad was here last I showed him the William Wallace and Jack Sparrow monkeys. He suggested a Man With No Name monkey. It took no time to figure out that was a killer idea for Sian's next movie star monkey. I just had to pile up the cash to pounce, and I am so glad I did. She turned out another awesome monkey. I love the cigar touch, that is typical Sian. She always finds a way to capture the essence of the character.

Now, which monkey will she have to do for 2010.... ?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Monkey Park" CleanUp

This is what happens to your nice white kitchen floors when your two Newfoundlands let themselves back inside after spending an hour outside unsupervised (I was working and ..babysitting.. and admit to completely forgetting about them).

The entire kitchen floor looked like this. And the kitchen is huge. I've never really appreciated or wanted to have such a large kitch, but it's the one we've got for better or worse. And today it was definitely for the worse.

Here are the beasts at the scene of their crime.

They always hang their enormous pink tongues out when excruciatingly proud of themselves. I couldn't get them both looking at the camera together, but trust me, it is almost enough to make you instantly forget all hints of their naughtiness. Almost.

Fortunately, all traces of the crime scene were cleaned up me.. in about ten minutes.

It's days like this that make me feel like I'm cleaning up a zoo.

Monkey Park CleanUp

When we visited the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan last January I never gave a second thought to whether or how the hot springs the Japanese macaques bathed in got clean. I just figured it was a natural feature of their environment and one that was left to 'nature' to deal with.

However, after regularly clicking in to view the monkey park's web cam, I've learned that their hot springs pool does get cleaned — regularly. Every week, if not every other day. When I check in during the morning hours, Japan time, I frequently see the pool drained and workers mopping up.

That surprised me. The other thing that surprised me is that there are large rocks inside the pool that come nearly to the waters surface. So, the monkeys I saw hanging around in the center of the hot springs while I was there were not treading water, they were lounging on rocks!

The other thing that surprised me, after watching the monkeys via web cam off and on for the last 8 months, is that they still go down to the hot springs during the summer. I wouldn't have guessed that. The water is rather warm and Japan is a hot, muggy place during the summer. But these highlander monkeys do live in the mountains where it is always cooler.

Even if the monkeys can be seen there year round, I still think it is far superior to see them in the winter with snow all around. After all, they are nicknamed Snow Monkeys.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Visual Stimulation, Part 2

Nursing shirts ought to be made out of cloth with funky, bold black and white patterns. Or, burp cloths need to be. I concluded this after observing that Baby Field Notes spends a significant amount of time each day staring at my inner elbow, which has got to be utterly boring. She does eventually fall asleep, which can be welcome, but for a baby who is having trouble gaining weight, not something that is welcome after 5 minutes lazily munching away. Something more interesting to look at would be a good idea... not that I need yet another project.

I finished the visual stim cloth book, and although it isn't truly useful yet, it will be. You can check it out here. I've also finished the tag blankets, three of them, one for BFN and one for her soon-to-be-nephew and another one for her other nephew.

She's already using hers. I drape it over the ugly plastic tray on her swinging chair. She hangs out in there while I try to get work done after she's fed but before she's ready to fall asleep. Today it kept her quiet for 15 minutes before she crashed out on her milk induced coma.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Baby = No Time/No Hands for Blogging!

I was going to write a real blog post, even if it was going to be short and sweet, just to get a new one on the record so it looks like I haven't abandoned blogging, but just when I get a moment to myself — finally — I go back to having no hands available for typing.

I have for the sake of getting work done, figured out how to type one handed, albeit incredibly painstakingly slowly and even more pathetically with my left hand only, however, I lack the patience to blog one handed.

So, off I go to answer the call of nature. The hungry, crying baby that is.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Planting a Crown Imperial Flower Bulb

Native to Iran, Afghanistan and the foothills of the Himalayas, the Crown Imperial is not your garden variety flower. Before being gifted three bulbs, I had never even heard of them. They were among a huge lot of bulbs a work colleague gave us and I had to check it out to learn how and where to plant them — but also what they look like.

Showy, that is is. The flower grows 3 to 4 feet tall on a stalk that ends in a tuft of green fronds somewhat like palm trees with bright, vivid flowers hanging below. I have no idea what color ours will be but the orange ones certainly are pretty. They will look great with the purple hyacinths we have.

The Crown Victoria bulbs stink to high heaven. Until I figured out where the stench was coming from, I swore one of the neighborhood dogs surprised a skunk. The bulbs are said to repel rodents.

The bulbs resemble cinnamon rolls, with an indent on the top that can fill with water and rot the bulb so it's advised to plant them on the side so water won't collect there. The plant's shoot is still able to find the surface, which given that plants grow through streets and sidewalks, is no great shocker. But, good to know, because I would have planted it in the ground wrong. Well, actually Mr. Field Notes would have. He's outside gardening on my behalf. Darn it too — if it were my choice I'd be out there with him! But until I recover completely from surgery, the weather cools off, and Baby FN is big enough to ride in a sling, I am kickin' it indoors with the AC and the whining pooches, who really resent being stuck inside while one of their people is outside 'having fun.'

I hope the Crown Imperial flowers will survive and come up in the spring. They appear in April or May and bloom for about 3 weeks, allegedly. Fingers crossed!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Labor & Delivery

How I went in wanting a completely natural, unmedicated birth and came out with my worst nightmare: a C-section.

On July 13 we went to the hospital around 5 pm to preregister. My due date was still a ways off (July 27) but I thought we were long overdue for preregistration and also for installing the car seat. So we headed to the hospital to take care of the easy one. I had already been having contractions but didn't realize it. The menstrual-cramp like contractions were not the same as the Braxton-Hicks contractions I had been having but I thought these new ones were just my body's way of prepping for the big day in advance. Well in advance.

After the incredibly easy check-in, we went up to the maternity ward to look around and said we were just visiting. I asked to see a birthing room. A nurse at the front desk asked whether I was having contractions and I said no, just cramps. The birthing room was surprisingly nice. It was spacious and looked comfortable. The only weird thing was the crucifix mounted on the wall smack dab on the wall facing the bed. I didn't like that, but it is a Catholic hospital and as I found out later, I had my eyes closed during the vast majority of my late labor anyway so I wasn't going to be weirded out by the presence of a little metallic Jesus anyway.

When a nurse showed us the room she asked if I was in labor, and I said no but then we got to talking and my answers to her questions resulted in me getting checked in. They hooked me up to monitors (fetal heart rate and contraction) and we waited for about an hour. As coincidence would have it, my OB was in the hospital and came by to check in on me. That was a nice surprise. He was leaving for vacation the next day and wasn't coming back until after my due date so that was probably the last I'd see of him. I asked him to check my dilation because I was curious. I was 1 cm and -2 station. He thought it could be another week or two, no way to know and said we could all go home but to come back if things get more serious. He wasn't super specific.

So we went home. As it turned out, I had contractions all night and morning and got no sleep but I didn't think much of the cramps, really. Having experienced severe endometriosis for years and years plus an ER visit due to a ruptured cyst, these cramps were no big deal. I wasn't feeling up for work in the morning so I bagged out of that. Although I didn't realize I was in labor, I was.

I called my mom in the morning around 9 am and had some three-way talks with her and my sister (who had recently had a baby) but nobody thought I was in labor. I had been timing the contractions/cramps on a my iPhone through an app called "Labor Mate." That made it super easy to find out how long contractions were, how much time passed in between them and also what the average time was. It's a really neat app. I'm glad I used it. And, you could email the log! Awesome. Not that it helped me figure out ..when.. to go to the hospital. The app should have a pop-up screen that asks: Have you lost your mucus plug? Are you having 'bloody show'? Then go to the hospital woman! Go!

I called my OB nurse sometime in the morning and asked her how regular the contractions had to be to go the hospital. She was equivocal but said if I have a bright pink discharge, it is time to go. I called Mr. Field Notes at around 11am (while he was on deadline at the newspaper) and told him it was probably time to be thinking about going to the hospital. He got the voicemail around 11:30 am and finished out work for the daily paper then came home. I think he might have even gone swimming after deadline and in between coming home. That's how convinced I was that I was having false labor. Ha ha ha. Was I ever wrong.

I got the bright pink discharge after Mr. FN got home around 1pm. I packed my bag for the hospital.. hadn't even done that yet! And we left. It was a short, short drive to the hospital. If I wasn't well on my way into contractions-land, we could have walked. And, really, that probably would have been better for my delivery but as far along as I was, I may have ended up giving birth on the sidewalk halfway there, assuming we could even have made it that far. Yeah, I am just that crazy — thinking I could WALK to the hospital while in labor. Overachiever? Yep.

But we drove.

I had been laboring on my left side, on all fours, bent over a counter, table or chair or leaning up against a wall.

I got a ride up to the maternity ward in a wheel chair pushed by the front-desk lady. I recalled it was quite a ways to go to get there and I was tired. I hadn't slept since Sunday night (it was Tuesday afternoon).

We got settled into the birthing room and asserted myself by not putting their stupid hospital gown on. I stayed in my T-shirt and just took my skirt off so I'd be more comfortable. Two nurses came in to start an IV line. And, just like last time I was in the hospital (to have surgery for endometriosis), they had a hell of a time finding a vein to get the line started. I didn't want to be hooked up, but it was hospital policy to at least open the line. They didn't actually hook me up to an IV until much, much later. I had poke marks all over both arms and hands. I think they eventually used the smallest bore needle they had. I did not enjoy being a pincushion.

I was definitely in labor now. No doubt about it in their mind. I thought I was going to have my mom there with me, but I was 2 weeks early and she was 500 miles away still. So it was just the Official Help You Labor Nurse (OHYLN) and Mr. FN in the room with me, besides Dr. WooooooJ (who was much cooler than his nickname). He wasn't my regular doc because mine had ..just.. left for vacation. Dr. Wooj and I clicked instantly so I felt good about the whole new doc I've never met before looking at my hoo ha. OHYLN did a quick check and found out I was at 8 cm.

8 cm dilated.

I got to 8 cm dilation at home — alone.

Yes, I am that bad ass.

Everybody thought I was within two hours of delivery. But from that point (around 1:30 pm) until around 10 p.m., I stayed at 8cm despite the contractions getting stronger. I labored on my left side (at home, too) for a long time, because that's what felt the best but the OHYLN had me use other positions to try to move my dilation along. I did the birth ball, hip rocking on the ball, on all fours, leaning over the back of the inclined bed, etc but nothing was working.

My cervix was swelling too and I reverted to 6cm dilated.

An apologetic Dr. Wooj said it was really time for me to try lying on my back, which I really did not want to do, both because I knew that would be a lot less comfortable and because we'd lose the effect of gravity, but I listened to my doc and did it. The point was to get my swollen cervix to ease up, and that would theoretically be helped by taking some of the pressure of the baby's head off.

By this point, my breathing changed to the deep breaths in and out and the moans and groans and animalistic grunts associated with late labor. I went into meditation mode for the next god-knows-how-long. My eyes were closed most of the time and I kept seeing the game Zip Word. It's an iPhone game like Boggle. I had been playing it for the previous week.

Yep, it wasn't the image of 'Our Savior Jesus Christ' that got me through labor, it was...

Zip Word.

At some point, maybe around dinnertime, 6pm or so, my water broke. I barfed at the time, right immediately before or right after — I can't recall. However, the sensation of my water breaking, the explosion, was Intense. I don't recall it as being painful, but it must have been to make me barf. My water breaking was the coolest, most unexpected neat-o thing that happened during labor and delivery. I can't really describe how it felt, just that it was like nothing else I'd ever experienced and was intense. It was not even remotely similar to any waters breaking I had ever seen in the movies. Not even close. And, I would totally love to experience that again because it was so intense, but it's never ever gonna happen, ever, ever again. Humpf.

So, I eventually got back up to 8cm after being down at 6cm.

At some point prior, but after my water broke, Dr. Wooj hooked me up with an internal sensor to measure contractions. It showed weak contractions that weren't doing anything. Also at some point prior but after my water broke, the baby's heart rate slowed too much for the doctor's comfort, so Wooj administered a drug to ease the contractions, which were doubling up and too close together yet also not achieving any progress. The contractions started intensifying a bit after the drug wore off, but never fully recovered and made no impact on dilation for hours, so Dr. Wooj suggested a C-section. I had been stagnate at 8cm for six to eight hours at least.

I asked if there was anything else we could try to move things along. He said we'd tried re-positioning me and that didn't work but we could try an epidural and pitocin. The epidural was to relax me / my uterus, which he thought had been under stress for too long. I got the pitocin to re-kickstart delivery-stage contractions.

Lurch, the anesthesiologist with the iPhone, administered the epi, and then the pitocin was infused, but only for about 20 minutes or so. At that point, Wooj said he thought it was time to cut bait because the contractions were not strong enough according to the internal sensor. As much as I didn't want to have a c-section, I knew that if I wanted to have this baby it looked like the best option given the fact that for a good ten hours I showed no increased dilation.

The baby was in a good position, not posterior or anything like that which would have made labor slower and harder — nope, just my god-damned back fucking luck.

At one point after we decided to go ahead with the section, Doc Wooj remarked, "You may look like you're 15, but you have a 35-year-old uterus and it just doesn't know what to do." It seems he was right.

Upon arriving at the hospital and finding out I was at 8cm, I had been so excited. So excited! I knew that baby was going to be here soon — and on Bastille Day to boot. Bastille Day is like the Fourth of July but for France. I taught myself French after college, to read St. Exupery's Terre des Hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars for all you non-Francophiles) and also to prepare for doing field work in Africa where being able to converse in French makes the job easier. I never made it to Africa for fieldwork, but I retained a fondness for French stuff and did got to France a couple times after college. Although my accent was terrible, I am sure, I still got around splendidly. A fondness for France and French stuff is something I share with Mr. Field Notes' mom. For the longest time, I actually thought she was born on Bastille Day and I thought that was pretty cool. But she was born two days prior. When it came time for Baby Field Notes to be born, I was stoked that she was actually coming on Bastille Day!

So after the writing was on the wall for the c-section, I told Dr. Wooj that if I had to have a c-section I was cool with that if it could still happen that day, on Bastille Day. It was getting on toward 10 or 11pm at the time so they wheeled me down to the OR.

There, Lurch (he really did resemble the dude from the Addams Family), the anesthesiologist amped up the epidural and Dr. Wooj and another doc did the C-section. There were some other dudes in the room too, who may have been docs or just surgical nurses, I don't know, but in addition to me, there were at least 4 maybe 5 doctors who had to be there to get Baby Field Notes into this world. That's a lot of god-damned doctors!

Mr. FN had to disappear for a while to change into scrubs. I wish I had actually seen him in his scrubs, that would have been cool, but I never did. He sat up by my head and hung out for support, which was nice, but then as soon as Baby FN was cut out (11:05 pm, July 14) he was gone. He got to cut the umbilical cord. I didn't get to watch that, which makes me sad, really, but oh well. It's not like I had a choice. The tears rolling down my cheeks as I write this suggests it still matters a lot to me that I was robbed of that experience. Humpf.

For the next three hours — that's right — three painfully long hours, I laid alone (pretty much) waiting for my body to 'wake up.' God that was torture — mental torture. To lie there virtually motionless and with no one besides the wanker nurse to keep me company for three fucking hours was worse than labor. Much, much worse. I couldn't get the dipshit nurse to talk to me. Until I could wiggle my toes and bring my knees up, three hours later, I had to watch her stare at a computer or my chart. Or, I watched the clock. I wasn't even remotely tired and I was fucking paralyzed. Could they not get a fucking TV in the recovery room? Or a ream of paper and a basket to throw wads at? Anything for entertainment. Good god. Or at least a nurse who was talkative? She was brain dead. BRAIN DEAD. I just could not get her to talk to me. Even when she was right next to me staring at my god damned chart. And I am not a talkative person but I needed some social support then, even a modicum would have been nice. At one point, I must have been beyond frustrated at this point, I asked her if she was asleep! She said that's not allowed while working or would be bad while working, or something like that. Fortunately I realized quickly this lady was responsible for giving me meds and for ultimately getting me the heck out of there, so I recovered by saying, "Well you had a very studious look about you." Then I went back to hating her and atrophying from boredom.

I thought I was going to die of boredom, literally.

Why on earth I have not yet signed a DNR order is beyond me, because that lovely experience taught me I will be better off if someone just pulls the plug on me than to let me live paralyzed and helpless. I am no Steven Fucking Hawking. Let. me. tell. you. that. So, yeah, I hated that part.

While I was being sewn up and 'recovering,' I mean dying of boredom, Mr. Field Notes and Baby FN went up to the nursery for weighing, bracelets, other health checks, her first bath, plus lots of suctioning of meconium - yuck. Grandpa Field Notes arrived about 5 minutes after they got to the nursery.

I wish things had gone differently, but I am at peace with what happened. Yes, parts still make me sad, but I'm no longer blaming myself for having to have a c-section. I am no longer crying because "I didn't get to push" and therefore "don't deserve the push pressie" that Mr. Field Notes has for me. Instead, I didn't have to push. I didn't have to have an episiotomy or tear my perineum. My vagina isn't stretched out to kingdom come and back. Some things are not so bad about having a c-section. Some things. I still am not yet approved to drive anywhere and I can't lift anything over ten pounds. And that means I cannot walk those doggies, not for a very long time. But, I am recovering and it wasn't that bad. I can imagine doing it again.

One day Baby Field Notes will learn it took two scary surgeries to bring her into this world.

Whether she appreciates that or not, I am just relieved she's actually here now and so far, apparently healthy as can be!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Easy Early Language Immersion

Developmental psychologists say people must be exposed to (hear and speak) all the sounds of a language in order to be able to speak it without a discernible accent later in life. People who learn a second language as an adult miss out on the important early sounds so they always speak with an accent, it is said. I don't know if I completely 'buy' that or not. But, I still want Baby Field Notes to grow up with some foreign language familiarity so she's confident in learning new languages.

At the FN's house we speak English and ... newfie. Which is to say, barks and groans and yowls and yelps are regularly heard and we're pretty good at communicating back. I really don't want newfie to be her second language. If all goes well, and we get to stay living here in this awesome town, Baby Field Notes will grow up being exposed to lots of Spanish — mainly in elementary school where the school she'd attend has a funky dual language immersion program. Mr. FN and I both know a smattering of Spanish from having taken it in high school and college so that will help us learn with her, theoretically at least. Mr. FN also speaks some German and although I can no longer speak it very well, I can still read French and plan to improve my speaking and reading skills over the coming years. Mr. Field Notes also does reasonably well with Japanese and me with Arabic.

One of the first ways Baby FN will be introduced to foreign language is through music. She's already started listening to Outlandish, a hip hop group from Denmark that performs in English, Spanish and Arabic. I've also got a good collection of French pop music: Mister Gang, Isabelle Boulay, and Teri Moise.

We've got loads of kids books too, mostly in French for later and for me now. Some are from the series Le Petit Ours Brun (The Little Brown Bear), another is Les Oeufs Verts au Jambon (Green Eggs and Ham) and of course, Antoine de St. Exupery's Le Petit Prince. We've got that on audio too — an unabridged version. Dessine-moi un mouton! I've already been having fun with that.
We'll have no lack of language resources. We just need to find some native speakers and travel a lot along the way.

Our supply of Japanese immersion material is pretty limited, but what we do have is awesome — some flash cards, dictionaries of kanji, a neat iPhone app, and a conversational language learning program by Pimsleur. I found it was very helpful for learning some Arabic. I also commissioned a special quilt with letters from the Japanese hirigana alphabet from a Japanese quilt maker I randomly found on etsy. When I saw the alphabet quilts she was making, I knew I had to have one for Baby Field Notes to use as a play mat. Here's what we came up with:

Hirgana is used for Japanese words for which there is no kanji. EmiShimosato is the place to go to get your own quilt. She has excellent craftsmanship, is very friendly and also makes non-Japanese quilts. Perhaps eventually I'll have her make us a katakana quilt too. I am still kicking myself a bit for not buying the magnetic alphabet set I saw in a dollar store in Japan. I should have. Every kid needs magnetic letters for the fridge and Japanese ones would certainly be unique. I figure she'll have this in case she wants to learn Japanese.

I think people not exposed as a child to a foreign language can learn, albeit with difficulty, to pronounce unusual sounds from a foreign language that are not present in their native tongue. But it takes practice, a good ear and a keen sense of muscle coordination between the mouth and tongue. It's much easier to just be exposed early and regularly to the sounds so they don't 'fall out' of the lexicon in the first place.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Feeding the Babe ~ The Case Against Breastfeeding?

When I first read Hanna Rosin's article "The Case Against Breastfeeding" in the April 2009 issue of the Atlantic, I walked away thinking she was just making excuses to justify her decision to not give her baby the best possible nourishment she could. In less charitable moments of reflection on the article, I thought she was weak. Weak. Weak. Weak.

Now I have a new appreciation for why Rosin was compelled to write about the difficulty, and lack of necessity (in her opinion), for breastfeeding.

In a nutshell, her argument against the 'breast is best' mentality focused on 1) there's a lack of real evidence that children fair better with breastmilk than formula, and 2) women who breastfeed (which can take 8 hours a day) don't apparently value their time.

That last one was the real head-scratcher for me, that is, until I found myself nursing on demand and spending the equivalent of a full-time job doing it (without pay, too boot). I can't say that I agree with her or support her decision. I couldn't care less if she nurses her child or not, but I do care that she sets a bad example for other women who can breastfeed their baby but choose not to. Her article gives all of us newly nursing moms an ally in the decision not to breastfeed.

But, I don't want an ally in the decision to give up and switch to formula because 'it's easier,' or 'pain-free,' or 'just as good in the long run as breastmilk,' or would free up time I wish I had more of.

No, instead, I want to tough it out. I want to find ways to type one-handed effectively and to type left-handed and to actually accomplish stuff while nursing. I know I can do it; I've always appreciated a good challenge and an excuse to multi-task.

However, I recently found myself rethinking that position after numerous daily bouts of trying like mad to get my baby to latch on, suckle for real and swallow (!) and escape .. somewhat.. the insane torture without too painfully sore nipples and boobs. Seriously, labor was a cakewalk compared to this. Really.

I am hanging in there though. I am determined to make it work. There's no way, and I don't care what the research Rosin found suggests is best, I will not give my baby anything other than what evolution has crafted over millions of years to be the ideal food for the early years. That is, if I have a choice.

So, to make my job more enjoyable, and to make sure I have other outlets besides Facebooking at 3am, I snagged some new books to read:

  • Parenting for Primates ~ written by a primatologist turned clinical psychologist who spent the first part of her career hand-rearing cotton-top tamarins — monkeys that co-parent their babies, usually twins.
  • Our Babies, Ourselves ~ written by one of my favorite primatologists, Meredith Small, whose other books and articles I've used in class. She talks about co-sleeping, breastfeeding, infant crying and other topics from a cross-cultural perspective. Much of what she has to say I am sure will come as no surprise to me, but it will still be fun to read. It will also probably reinvigorate my desire to 'go native' with babycare — once I get my strength back, and my abs.
  • Riddled With Life - written by Marlene Zuk, a biologist whose research and sense of humor I fell in love with during one of her talks at a conference I went to. Her work is a prescription for 'Darwinian medicine' and reminds us all that a too clean house is unhealthy. One of her memorable points? A trace amount of dog crap in the bed is ideal. That's good news for this house, let me tell you. Gross, but good for the immune system.