Thursday, February 28, 2008

Labor, Delivery, and Post-Partum Reading

I have been thinking about what I wanted to read in the hospital and right after the baby is born. I wanted something warm and nourishing, but not some plot driven, emptiness that would be easy to read but not provide any sustenance. I asked around, got some ideas, but nothing really resonated with me.

I finally came up with three possibilities:

Reading Lolita in Tehran--I have started this. I really like it. But, it seems like it might be hard to stay focused on when I am tired. I'll take it with me anyway.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan--Someone else blogged about reading this while in labor. It's fiction, and it's not long. Maybe this will be a good one.

Gideon--A Pulitzer winner from a few years ago. I've heard it's really good with beautiful writing, but also a little slow. We'll see.

They are all three in my suitcase. Except for Reading Lolita, since I have actually been reading it.

Just this week, I got an email from the library saying that a new book that I had requested months ago but which had a really long waiting list had been delivered to our branch. It is about the Supreme Court by a writer from the New Yorker. I picked it up today, and instead of the normal three week check-out period, this time it's only two weeks since there are so many people who want it. Ugh. I'm not sure I'm going to be up for this in the next two weeks, but of course after waiting for such a long time for it, I feel like I have to read it now.

Read more . . .

Books I didn't finish

I am proud to say that I started two books, I didn't like them, so instead of forcing myself to finish them, they went back to the library.

The first was A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. I picked it up after reading Nine Parts of Desire and thinking about Muslim's women's veiling, thinking it might provide a cohesive argument that might shed light on how veiling is a good thing for women, not just a way for men to control women. But, I didn't like the book at all. Shalit throws around terms like "feminism", "conservative" and "liberal" without clear definitions. Her arguments are all over the place. And her book is more about sex than general modesty. I read a few chapters and then tossed it aside.

The second was In Search of King Solomon's Mines. The author takes a fancy to the idea of travelling through Ethiopia to look for the famous mines of King Solomon's temple. He's not an archeologist or anthropologist. He breezes about the country. I didn't like the writing much. It didn't grab me. So, it's gone too.

Read more . . .

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Naming Babies

After a lot of back and forth on my part, we have officially scheduled an induction for Friday. So, the baby will be here if not sooner, then on Friday. I hope.

Of course, we've been thinking a lot about names and trying to decide how and what to name our baby. I've been thinking back on MJ and T and how we picked their names.

With MJ, we went to the hospital with three names. I can't remember much of the process that got us to that point. I think we just looked through lots of baby name lists and came up with some that we liked. AJ came up with a naming algorithm. If she seemed impish (as manifest by red hair), then she would be Mallory. If she seemed cultured and refined (I'm not sure how we would tell that), she would be Elizabeth. If she seemed independent and opinionated, she would be Maren. As it turned out, from the moment she was born until at least 90 minutes later, MJ cried a so loudly, so intensely, and so vigorously that we went with Maren. She was bright red.

Maren is a Danish name and sounds great with our surname. In fact, when we went back and looked at AJ's pedigree charts, we found a lot of Marens there. In New Jersey and New York, her name was virtually unheard of, but here in Minnesota, we've run into a lot more Marens. Her middle name is Julia, a tribute to my mom's family line. Julia is my grandma's mother. I think Maren Julia has a great lilt to it. I love the way her name rolls off the tongue.

With T, it was so much harder. Before his birth, we had never really settled on names that we liked a lot. I wanted something unusual, but not totally off the charts as far as weird. I was obsessed with checking the Social Security name popularity web site. I didn't want any boy names in the top 50 and would regularly veto any that came up that were too popular. I was also worried about how his name would go with MJ's. We had a fluctuating list, but Caleb, Toby, and Zane regularly surfaced to the top. We also had Sawyer (before Lost was on tv), Hayden, and a bunch of others that came and went. His middle name was predetermined: Anthony, after AJ's dad. I didn't love any of the names we had thought about.

After he was born, we still were thinking about what to name him. He was born at 9:45 in the morning, and we spent that day looking through the phone book to see what other names we could find--I remember browsing through the lawyer section of the yellow pages to see if there were last names we could use as first names. AJ went down to the bulletin board where all the babies who had been delivered in the hospital were listed. Nothing struck us. The nurses kept hounding us about his name: on each bassinet, they had placed the baby's name, with each letter on a baby block. They wanted to put something up for him. Finally, the morning after he was born, she asked us if there was something we wanted to try out on his bassinet, to see if we liked it. We gave in and said Toby. Although we had thought to call him Toby, I didn't want to give him that name. I didn't like Tobias. Or Tobiah. So, we came up with Tobin. But, Tobin Anthony doesn't sound great. In the end, I finally just gave in and said yes to Toby and signed my name on his birth certificate.

I didn't really call him Toby for the first month of his life: he was "the baby." Then, it started to stick and now I think it's a perfect name for him--in contrast to MJ, T was so quiet and mellow when he was first born, I worried that something was wrong with him. I just put a new ringtone on my phone from a song that has this fun line: "I've never met a Toby that I didn't like." When we sent out an email about his birth, one of my favorite comments was, "President Bartlett would be so proud." This, from fellow West Wing fans in Princeton. Although we didn't choose his name because of the character Toby Ziegler on West Wing, it certainly didn't dissuade us from giving him that name.

With this baby, we have had a fairly consistent list of top names for about the last two months. The top tier is Henry, Will (from William), and Zane. The second tier, which doesn't really exist anymore, was Taggert, Quinn, and Bram (from Abraham). I really have liked Eli, but AJ doesn't, while he was strongly pushing Dane for a while. I said no.

As it's gotten closer, I've started to rethink our list. William has been in the top 10 most popular baby boy names for the last 15 years at least. Henry has been rising in popularity, and AJ wants to call him Hank if we name him Henry. I'm not a fan.

And, then we have to deal with the middle name of Giacomo--it won't go with our last name and it won't go with any name we pick for his first name. AJ says Giacomo will be a name he'll never tell his friends about.

Just recently, AJ has fixated on the name Zeke. But, Ezekiel Giacomo? In AJ's words, "Why don't we just give the kid a swirly the day he's born?"

So, right now, this is what's on my list: Will, Henry, and Zane. They're still there. And then there's Lars, Taggert, Eli, Nicholas, Blaise, and Leo. I'm not sure what else is on AJ's list now, but he says Zeke is his dark horse candidate.

Hopefully, we will have come to an agreement this weekend.

Read more . . .

Monday, February 25, 2008

Family home evening

T calls it "family no heaving". I love it. I think we'll keep that term long after he starts saying it correctly.

Read more . . .

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Adam and Eve

When I was working to disengage from the RS lesson today, I turned to the Pearl of Great Price to remind myself of Adam and Eve's relationship. It is one of the role models of a husband and wife that I like and that I turn to.

Just a few points:

  • Eve is described as "bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh" suggesting a unity and togetherness
  • After they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, they labored together
  • They called upon the name of the Lord and ceased not to call upon the name of God together
  • They blessed the name of God together and they made the things that they had been taught by the Spirit known to their children

Read more . . .

My Nit-Picking Response to Mothers who Know

Back in October, we were in Italy. I didn't have a chance to listen to President Beck's talk directly, because of the time difference, and AJ was able to warn me that it could be potentially upsetting to me. I liked that I had some time to emotionally prepare for it. It didn't hit me over the head and I didn't have the extremely emotional negative reaction that I have had at other times. I've felt for a while that I should write out my thoughts about this talk, but didn't have the catalyst until today.

In RS, we had a lesson based mostly on her talk from October 2007, Mothers Who Know. We were also supposed to discuss Elder Oakes' talk, Good, Better, Best. Unfortunately, the teacher fell ill at the last minute, and our RS president stepped in to teach the lesson. I thought she did a great job filling is, but what got left behind was a cohesive melding of the two talks. While they complement each other very nicely, we didn't have time for Elder Oakes' talk, but spent the whole time on President Beck's.

I reread both talks this morning. I think that they are full of inspirational counsel. But, I should have known better than to sit through this lesson. Whenever discussions of "women's roles" come up at church, I tend to get antsy, upset, and frustrated. It wasn't that there were any comments that I hated or totally disagreed with. Maybe it's just my lingering issues that make me ultra-sensitive to any discussion in a church setting like this. I thought there were a lot of insightful comments. But, sometimes I just feel like a fish out of water.

And part of it is President Beck's talk itself. I feel like to get what is helpful to me out of it, I have to look beyond her words to what I think she means. Is that twisting her words? I feel like some sections of her talk were poorly worded, or that the emphasis was on the wrong things. I don't know, though. Maybe she really did want to emphasize what she did.

I'm going resist the urge to break apart everything that bugged me about this talk, but I want to vent about a couple of sections.

Mothers Who Know Honor Sacred Ordinances and Covenants:

Ok, sounds great. I totally agree with this sentiment. I feel like the section title is somewhat misleading, though, because she is talking more about helping kids to learn how to honor covenants. I suppose that when we help our kids make and keep covenants then we are honoring our own covenants?

But, my major issue has to do with her concrete example. According to her, mothers who know get their children ready for church with white missionary shirts and hair cuts, with clean and ironed dresses, and with perfectly brushed hair. By making our children neat and tidy for sacrament meeting, we show them how important it is to take the sacrament. Huh??? In Elder Oakes' parlance, I think that this is good. But what would be best, in my opinion, is coming to church spiritually ready to take the sacrament--I don't care if my teenage sons want to grow their hair longer and if they don't always have a white shirt on. We have some baseline of decency in how the kids look in getting ready for church, but I don't really think my three year old needs a tie on and his shirt tucked in at this point, and it just isn't worth the fight if my 6 year old daughter wants to wear an outfit that I don't like. Today, neither one of them got their hair combed, but I thought they looked fine. What is much more detrimental, in my mind, is when we show up to the pews angry and frustrated. When I have dragged them out of the house to get into the car. When we are not in a state of mind to be at church. We look fine and perhaps we smile at people as we enter. But, internally, we are not in a good place. I don't think Sister Beck would disagree that this is more important, but I really dislike her emphasis on the exterior and on appearances. Why focus on that to the exclusion of what's more important?

I almost raised my hand to comment on this today, but then didn't.

Mothers Who Know Are Nurturers

This was the section of the talk that I had the most problem with. Again, the section title is just fine with me. I nurture my children. (So does AJ for that matter.) Nurturing children is important, one of the most important things that both men and women do during their time on the earth.

The most troublesome statement of her entire talk to me is this: "Another word for nurturing is homemaking." Um, I guess with some clarification and more in depth discussion, I could accept that. Maybe. A big maybe. IF we are talking about making a home, about knitting together a family in love (as one woman suggested today in the lesson, but which Pres Beck doesn't say). If we set aside the common meaning of homemaking as the housework.

But, this is not what she does. She emphasizes the housework to the exclusion of a discussion of our relationships with our children. She talks about making home a place of order where we can have a climate for spiritual growth. I don't disagree that this is important. Instead, I am frustrated by what she leaves out. And I really dislike equating nurturing and homemaking. Why can't we separate them? I think that this is exactly what Elder Oakes does in his talk when he starts with the Mary and Martha story. One thing is expedient and Mary has chosen the better part.

This was the most uncomfortable part of the lesson for me. The RS president asked me to read this section of the talk since not a lot of women had the talk in from of them. Luckily, there was a small distraction comment from the time she asked me to read until the time the section needed to be read. Just enough time for me to pass the talk to the row in front of me to my understanding neighbor L. Yes, I refused to read the quotation. What really made me feel uncomfortable was that sitting next to L was the stake RS president. She could easily see, and she did see, the big black comments I had made next to that section: "totally disagree" and "ugh". Nice, huh? And then I felt like I had to respond somehow to my refusal to read that section and tried to state in a nice way why I didn't like the conflation of nurturing and homemaking. During that, I got emotional and started crying. Oh, why did I do that? I'm not even sure why I had that reaction. But, I felt pretty ridiculous for breaking down.

Anyway, the lesson went on and I was working internally to disengage myself from it. I didn't want to think much more about it the implications of the talk, what Pres Beck was trying to say to women. During the lesson, I had some more thoughts about my relationship with AJ and where we are on all these things. I think I'll do a separate post about that.

My other broad brush problems with Pres Beck's talk:

1. Very much targeted at middle class women in the United States.

2. It seemed to provide too narrow of a description for "mothers who know." I wish she would have talked broadly, to mothers, about becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, about seeking personal revelation, about finding our own personal paths, and building upon our talents. Again, I don't think she would say that any of these things is unimportant, but I struggle to understand why she chose to emphasize what she did.

3. So much of what she said is completely applicable to fathers. Just because I am a woman and mother, I don't have a corner on nurturing and household organization. Father who know are also teachers and leader. Families who know choose to do less. Why not talk about fathers too? If we're talking in ideals, then include the dads!

4. Some of the things that she said at the end of her talk, I really liked. Mothers who know do less--this section is about simplifying our lives, spending time together working and playing, not trying to do everything. This is just what Elder Oakes talk is about. This seems to directly contradict her earlier admonition about homemaking.

Anyway, I left RS feeling a little emotionally drained. I didn't really want to engage with anyone about the lesson or Pres Beck's talk or my (freakish) reaction to it. It was easier (!!!) to listen to people tell me that I looked like I was going to have a baby in a few minutes or that I looked like I was going to "pop" any moment. (Don't ever say anything like that to a very pregnant lady.)

Read more . . .


My father is James. James Jr. His father is James Sr. And my great-grandfather is Giacomo. Giacomo is the Italian version of James. Going back from my great-grandfather, I have several other direct male ancestors named Giacomo.

Giacomo was born in France in 1882 during a period of economic difficulty in Italy. His parents Giovanni Battista and Margharita left their tiny village of Coassolo in northwestern Italy at the foothills of the Alps to seek work in eastern France. My father believes that after a few years in France, the family returned to Italy where Battista, as he was called, secured a passport and travel arrangements to the United States. He was drawn there with the promise of work in the coal fields of Illinois. Once he found a job in Coal City as an underground miner, he saved some money and then sent for his family. In 1887, Margherita and Giacomo travelled to the United States to join Battista. My dad has a copy of their joint passport--they left out of Le Havre, France, and disembarked in New York City, travelling only with their two suitcases. Giacomo, who came to be called Jocko, was 5 years old at the time.

In 1894, Battista died in a mine collapse. My father believes that at this time, Margherita was encouraged to move to the state of Washington by her brother Pietro. She took her son and moved to Washington, about 100 southeast of Seattle.

Jocko eventually became a bartender in Ronald, then took a job maintaining mining equipment in and around the mines. He eventually moved the tavern to Roslyn, where he set up a grocery store. In early 1910, the 27-year old Jocko married Carlotta Bianco, who died in 1911 several months after giving birth. I found the three of them in the 1910 census. Evidently, Jocko's mother Margherita wrote to an Italian family who had also immigrated to Coal City (originally from another small village in northwestern Italy) , inviting them to send Mabel Barbara Viano by train to Washington, in order to meet Jocko. In early 1913, the 30-year old Jocko and 23-year old Mabel marry. Mabel in my great-grandmother.

In late 2005, I travelled with my parents and two of my sisters to Coassolo. My dad has been working on our Italian family history for nearly 40 years--ever since he travelled to Italy at the end of his mission to France in the late 1960's. No one else in his family has helped him in the research, and I think he was motivated to take us there, hoping that someone else in the family would catch the bug. In Coassolo, we were able to visit the tiny municipal building where the office workers there permitted us to enter a back room and look through the dusty vital records that dated back to 1860. We sat there for portions of two days, combing through the records, looking for family names, and writing down all the information that we found.

It was exciting to see the Italian variation of my birth name--Bellezza--in the handwriting of a person from 150 years ago. As it turns out, the surname of Giovanni Battista was Bellezza Fontana (the beauty by the fountain), and is unique from other variations of Bellezza. When Jocko came to the United States with his parents, the name was changed to Bellessa.

I have a couple of strong memories from our time in the Coassolo Municipio. One of the pieces of information that was included in the vital records was the job of the decedent or the parents of the newborn child. Almost every single record listed a job of contadino, or peasant.

The other recollection I have is of the death record of an infant with one of the surnames we were searching for. The child was only a few days old. The next death record that was listed was of the child's mother. And her death occurred shortly after the baby. I was acting as the record reader, with my mom transcribing, and we both got choked up with this information.

I hope that our son will be born this week. We have been thinking about what to name him, and as with our other two children, I have been fence sitting, unwilling to make a decision. I keep thinking that perhaps a better name than those we have thought of will come to me somehow and that I should keep an open mind just in case. I have thought for some time, though, that I would like him to have the middle name of Giacomo. Not only would this honor my dad and grandpa, but it would pay homage to my Italian heritage.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a group of women about baby names, and I started second guessing Giacomo. It is unusual, it doesn't go with our last name at all, and doesn't really go with any of the first names that we're thinking about. AJ has said for quite a while that this is a name that our son won't want to tell his friends about. In the middle of the night, when I had to get up to go the bathroom, I thought perhaps we should just go with the English equivalent of James.

But, in the shower this morning, I was thinking about it again. I wish I knew more about the lives of my Italian ancestors. Only the barest facts of their lives can be put together from the information I am able to collect about them. But, even that skeleton of information is sobering to me. For example, just a few weeks ago, I found the death records of three small children in one family. Ursula died when she was 18 months old, and just a few weeks after another sister was born into the family. A few years later a son was born--Giovanni--but he survived for only a week. Another little boy--Giuseppe--was born 2 years later but he died when he was about 6 months old. All these, in addition to the death of first born child Maria Catarina at age 4. So, out of 6 children, only 2 survived past early childhood.

I think about the contadini in the rocky and barren hills of northwestern Italy. And I think about leaving a country behind with only two suitcases for a "good job" as a coal miner, which in a few short years would lead to the death of a husband and father.

I want my child to be connected to my Italian ancestors. I want them and the hard lives they had to be remembered in some small way. I think we will keep the name Giacomo.

Read more . . .

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

My birthday is in December, and for a gift, I told AJ that I wanted him to fix up my blog so that from the front page, a reader would only see part of the post, and then could click "read more" for the full post. He spent a good bit of time on it in late December, but wasn't quite successful. Last night, some html code was gunking things up, so he took a second look, found some better directions, and voila! There it was. Thanks hon! Only two months late, but I don't mind.

Now I need to look around and find some other ways to prettify my blog.

Read more . . .

Friday, February 22, 2008

How Green Was My Valley

On, the average rating for How Green was My Valley is 4.6 stars. On GoodReads, the rating is 4.31. When I was Googling the book, I found it on several people's list of best books ever. I personally didn't think it was that great of a book. (On a technical note, I wonder if people who like books are more likely to rate and review them, which would skew the average rating higher than what it would be if all who read the book ranked it.)

Before I write about all the things I didn't like in this book, I should say that I have no knowledge of Welsh geography or history. I don't know anything about custom and culture there. And perhaps I'm not literary enough to really appreciate the prose of a book like this. That might skew my opinion of this book, but it was really hard for me to get through it and towards the end, I was just slogging to the end so that I could be done with it.

I didn't think that there were memorable characters. For a novel that covers such a long period of time, all the characters were remarkably consistent in their attitudes and actions. I didn't see any real growth in them.

The book felt way too long to me. The story was slow and it was hard for me to keep all the characters straight. One piece of someone's life would crop up and then disappear so that you never find out what happens. The novel is a family saga, and I suppose that it's somewhat realistic that all the loose ends aren't tied up, especially when told from one person's perspective. But, I just don't like it as a novelistic device. If this were my family history, I would love reading it like this, but it just made for a winding, indirect story.

The connection through the whole novel is the Valley where Huw's family lives. (I don't know much about Welsh names, but out of all that Llewelyn uses in the book, "Huw" is my least favorite.) The economy there based on coal and how that disintegrates over time, the degradation of the environment due to the mining, and the eventual disintegration of the whole community because of the way mining changes during this time period. But, the story of the strikes and the coal and the labor unions wasn't very interesting to me for some reason. So, it didn't feel very coherent to me.

And speaking of Huw, the narrator, there sure were a lot of times when he somehow conveniently overhears a conversation so that the reader will know what's going on in the larger family. It often seemed somewhat contrived.

In some of the reviews I read, people talked about the lovely descriptive prose. I didn't really like the long prose sections. Again, it probably reflects more on my literary tastes rather than the actual value of the book. But, I felt like these sections were way too long and overly sentimental. I started getting fed up with them towards the end so that I started to scan.

I also had a hard time getting past the way women were portrayed in the book, the vigilante-ism of the community, the parental authoritarianism, the moral strictness, and the narrow mindedness of the community, especially about religion. I couldn't set aside my values and enjoy the book for a peek into history, if that indeed is what it was.

The one part that resonated some with me with the narrator's connection to the Valley. This [highly edited!] passage illustrates his feelings (and also the prose style of Llewellyn)

The Valley was part of us and we were part of the Valley, not one more than the other, never one without the other. Of me was the Valley and the Valley was of me, and every blade of grass, and every stone, and every leaf of every tree, and every knob of coal, or drop of water, or stick or branch or flower or grain of pollen, or creature living, or dust in the group, all were of me as my blood, my bones, or the notions from my mind.

My Valley, O my Valley, within me, I will live in you eternally. Let Death or worse strike this mind and blindness eat these eyes if thought or sight forget you.

This is the selection for our book group in March which I almost certainly won't be attending. I am curious, though, what other women thought of the book.

Read more . . .

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

T - 25 days and T-14 days

3 1/2 weeks until my due date, March 4. Desired date of delivery: Feb 19, just over 2 weeks early. Seems unlikely. I went to the dr yesterday and absolutely nothing has started to happen.

Physical discomforts as almost 37 weeks pregnant:

  • Varicosity, multiple locations

  • Leg cramps (sometimes severe) in the middle of the night

  • Insomnia

  • Contributing to the above, middle of the night bathroom trips

  • And associated with the above, lots of bathroom trips during the day and reduced ability to "pee in a stream"

  • Gas

  • Weight gain, not from baby, making me feel chubby

  • Physical awkwardness, lumbering around

  • Swollen ankles

  • Sleepiness all the time

  • Ligament tenderness

Well, it's now Feb 19th. No sign of baby Sportacus yet, but when I went to the dr last Friday, I had progressed to 1 cm, 50 % effaced. I have another dr appt this Friday. I feel ready. Last week, I washed all the baby stuff. Yesterday, we got the "baby's room" (our closet) all ready. This consisted of cleaning out the closet, vacuuming, moving the laundry and a bunch of other stuff, and putting the baby basket in its spot. We also got the whole house cleaned up and vacuumed (my new vacuum is so great), and I packed my suitcase. I am ready to go to the hospital. Now, if my water would break or if contractions would start.

Additional physical ailments at 38 weeks:

The baby seems to have settled lower, so there is a lot more pressure in the pelvic area, not to mention more stress on the bladder. The ligament pain has increased--yesterday, I could hardly hobble around the house and turning over in bed has gotten really difficult. I don't know that I will be at the gym again, and with the weather so cold, that leaves me confined to the house for the most part. I feel so so big. I am carrying the baby straight out this time around--my belly looks like a big basketball.

Read more . . .

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Getting Ready for Baby Sportacus

The due date is 2 1/2 weeks away. I still haven't packed my bag to take to the hospital, but we are slowly getting ready for the arrival of baby Sportacus.

As an aside, I love the name Sportacus. T dubbed the baby with this name when we found out he was a boy and it stuck. With MJ, we kind of called her Lucy in utero and with T, we called him Joey. But, we didn't regularly refer to them with these names. Not like now. I hope the name stickes past his birth.

The last few days, I have washed tiny little undershirts and jammies, gotten out the baby car seat and washed its cover too, and located the baby basket. We have a Moses kind of basket that AJ's mom gave us before MJ was born that our babies have slept in the first 2-3 months. Sportacus will be no different in that regard, but he will probably be sleeping in our closet since we don't have an extra bedroom this time around. I don't want to put him in with T until he is sleeping through the night pretty well, so our closet will double as a nursery. So different than when MJ was born and we spent a lot of time getting her room set up and getting all the supplies we thought she needed.

I bought newborn diapers (so amazingly tiny), breast pads, and jumbo Always at the store a couple of days ago. I quickly forget how much I had to focus on controlling bodily fluids right after my babies was born, but it's all coming back to me now.

I have been thinking about all the scenarios of when the baby could come and am trying to plan for all possibilities. I have a list with lots of phone numbers, and hope that it won't be hard to find somewhere for MJ and T to go when we are heading to the hospital. I have talked to AJ multiple times about how to get a hold of him at work. And I have been feeling bad that we don't have any family close by to help out with this part and to visit us in the hospital.

We took the hospital tour on Tuesday. That was a relief. Now, we know where to park and go in and where the labor and delivery area is. And we have seen it with our own eyes which makes me feel calmer about it. Looking at the hospital materials with the pictures of newborns, I had a shock of reality that this baby really is coming very soon and I got a little emotional. I am ready, I think, to have him join our family, to see what he looks like, and to start to get clues to his personality.

I haven't cooked any meals to freeze for quick prepartion. Nice idea, but that's just not going to happen. I did buy some chicken nuggets and orange chicken at Costco. Does that count for anything? One of my favorite things with a newborn is getting to read so much with all the nursing you have to do. I have a pretty good book list. I have a couple of library books I want to get through, and I ordered a few more to our branch. I should pull out all the books I want to read that I have laying around the house.

Read more . . .

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Nine Parts of Desire

This was our book selection for the month. It was a fairly interesting read, but I thought Geraldine Brooks tried to cover too many topics, to the exclusion of depth in any one given area. I was interested to read a bit about the history of Mohammed and his wives. And to see where some of the Muslim customs surrounding women come from. One woman in our group pointed out how similar she saw Mohammed and Joseph Smith. Looking back, it would have been interesting to delve into that a bit.

One chapter was on veiling. This is an area I am interested in. It seems to me that veiling is linked with fundamentalism and nationalism and with other tendencies that supress women. I know that there is dispute over this. Many women feel that veiling protects and empowers them. This might be. I think that there should be standards of modesty, but have issues with extremes. There were many Indian women in our neighborhood in NYC who wore brightly colored head scarves and beautiful and loose fitting saris, and I thought they were modest without being so compelled into narrow standards of dress.

I have a major problem with the idea that women are caretakers of men's chastity and sexual desires and that they need to veil in order to protect men from illicit sexual thoughts or acts. Why can't we focus more on how men need to control their thoughts and how parents and other adults need to teach boys that they need not be subject to every passing thought? Veiling seems to be for the benefit of men, rather than for women. At least, this is my perception, which is admittedly mostly ignorant and from a Western perspective.

I thought a bit about how religion is used as a means of social control for women. And for general human behavior too. It seems like it is used less as a way to proscribe gender roles for men--Brooks talks about how certain admonitions in the Koran which seem to apply equally to men and women, or those that center on men's behaviors, are not enforced among men. I thought about our church and how the pulpit is used (not in malicious ways) to circumscribe appropriate female behavior, leading, at times, those who do not fit the molds of appropriate gendered behavior to feel guilty or smothered.

One of Brooks' points is that a great deal of Islamic traditions surrounding gender--which vary greatly from country to country and from locality to locality--are not based in Koranic teachings but are most a cultural artifact of Islam. It makes me wonder what things we do in the church are similarly cultural and not based in any eternal truths. (I personally think there might be a lot.)
The feeling that I most had after reading the book was the desire to dive in and learn some more, and hopefully from Islamic women, not a Western, self-labelled secularist, who might have an ax to grind. That's not to say that she didn't have some interesting and valuable observations and conclusions in her book. She did. I would like to broaden my understanding by looking at a variety of souces. I just put a few more books on Islam, gender roles, and women on my list to read.
Read more . . .

Nature's Body: Gender In The Making Of Modern Science

I only got to read one chapter of this before I had to return to the library, but I picked a great one. In chapter 2, Londa Schiebinger traces the genesis of the mammalia label to the mid-18th century taxonomist Carl Linneaus. Although mammary glands are one shared characteristic of this group, Schiebinger makes the case that they are not the most prominent unifying characteristic and that Linneaus' choice to use this label as a taxonomic device was based in the cultural context of the time.
Most upper class western European women during this time period utilized wet nurses to feed their infants. But, a social movement was underfoot to reconnect women to the domestic sphere. By connecting a group of animals to humans through the mammal label by virtue of their ability to produce milk for their young, nursing is seen as "natural" and connected women to the animal kingdom.

So, science and scientific evidence have also been mustered to define gender roles and promote gender ideology. Not too suprising, but this chapter made me rethink something as basic as the animal classification system that I learned about in 1st grade. To me, there was no other way to sort mammals into their own unique category and the idea that something like this name could have been politically motivated and culturally structured was novel.

Read more . . .

About Alice

Calvin Trillin has been a staff writer at the New Yorker for many years. I read a vivid and touching essay a while back there about his late wife Alice who died in 2001. This book is an expanision of the New Yorker essay and it's a pure delight to read. A reader who sent Trilliin a note of condolence after Alice's death describes her measuring stick for judging her boyfriend: "Will he love me as much as Calvin loves Alice?" And Trillin's affection for Alice shows through on every page.

This and other personal memoir books that so perfectly (it seems) capture a spouse or child through writing make me want to be a better writer so I can preserve the fleeting nature of what my children are like now.

Read more . . .

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Caucusing in Minnesota

Tonight, we loaded the kids in the mini-van and headed over to our local high school to caucus for Obama.
We went early, thinking we could potentially avoid some of the crowds, but we sure weren't early enough. There was a lot of traffic, backed all the out of the high school, all the way down the main roads. It took us a good half an hour to get through the traffic and into the parking lot and then we headed in to major chaos inside. The turn-out was phenomenal. The time box on the voting made the entire experience so much more exciting--seeing all of our community merge together to caucus rather than the typical trickle at the local school or church for voting at the polls.

We first had to determine which precinct we were in by looking at badly labeled maps, and then headed to a high school classroom. By the time we got there, it was just about 7, and so the caucus process was starting. The caucus convener for our precinct was an old, short woman with a quiet voice who was reading the by-laws for caucusing. They went on to elect some precinct officials. We didn't stay long enough to participate in the discuss on the democratic platform. I figure all those old-time caucus goers were overwhelmed with all of us newbies to the process.

The room was jam packed--for some reason, two precints were included there. We had to register by signing in with our names and addresses, but there was no need to present any form of ID or proof of residency. I kept wondering how they keep Wisconsinites and Iowans from crossing the border to vote in our caucuses. After we signed in, they gave us a small piece of purple paper which was on ballot. We were to write the name of our candidate there and then put it in a box. That's our ballot? Crazy. I wrote Obama on mine, and MJ wanted to write it down on AJ's. The weird thing was the election workers had no idea how we were to vote for a senate candidate. They told us we were supposed to go somewhere else to vote for the senate. but, out in the hall, they told we needed to vote for them in our precinct room. We decided to take the kids and head out at that point. I wonder if they ran out of real ballots which would have had all of the caucus elections listed.

The good news is that Minnesota has been called for Obama.

Read more . . .

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I don't have a lot of intellectual energy today. I am tired--sleeping and staying asleep has become more difficult the last few weeks and the countdown is on. T and I haven't left the house today and have been lazily doing not much of anything. But, I did want to write a few notes on what I read last week.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott Medal this year, so I was surprised to see a 500+ page book when I picked it up from the library last week. It is a book unlike any I have seen. Brian Selznick tells his story through both the use of his text as well as his charcoal-like illustrations. He describes it as "not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things. " The illustrations perfectly complement the story--as it unwinds, we learn more about a mysterious old man who sells toys, but who had a previous career as a film maker, and these illustrations are like an old time silent movie.

The story focuses on a boy who lives in a Paris train station and keeps the clocks up and running. He has a talent for all things mechanical, and in the process of the novel, is able to figure out how to fix a complicated automaton that his father was interested in before he died.

That's about all I have in me to say, but here are a couple of links for fun reading associated with this book. One is a review, and one is a post from a friend who is a children's librarian.

Read more . . .