A Short Blurb on Motherhood

I really had no idea.

You love them before they are born, and you think that’s it, that’s enough, that’s as deep as this lake gets.  But then they arrive and this whole other part of you that you didn’t even know existed gets unlocked, and you are completely blown away by your capacity to love another human.  And then, it seems impossible but each day you find that you  love them even  more than you did yesterday.

And you understand with stunning clarity that she will break your heart, a million times over, and that she will never understand this love, this depth, unless and until she has her own child.  It’s fine if you never go down this path, I almost didn’t myself, but I’m convinced that you have to be a parent to understand it.  Because words are simply insufficient to convey it.  And not only do you know this but you embrace it, full stop ahead, because she deserves no less.  This tiny, magical being you have brought forth deserves all the light and love she can get her tiny little hands on.

In fact, you are but putty in those hands and just hope it takes her through her teenage years before she figures it out.

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Introducing Miss Squish

On a snowy Friday in late March, I officially became a mom to a beautiful 8 pound, 14 ounce baby girl.  She has a proper name, of course, but we’ve taken to calling her Miss Squish because she has the most delightfully squishy cheeks.  She also has blue eyes and coppery red hair and a generally happy disposition.  We think she’s just the bees knees and every day we marvel in wonder at her.  Honestly, we’re still surprised we even got pregnant, let alone that we have a real, live baby to snuggle.

Also?  The last few weeks of my pregnancy until now is all sort of a blur.  Some of that is due to lack of sleep, of course, and some of it is that I’m still processing a lot of stuff.  For one thing, I miss being pregnant!  Although the last few weeks I grew increasingly uncomfortable, I mostly loved being pregnant (I do NOT miss the heartburn though;  I seriously thought I was dying.)  As glad as I am to have her out in the world, I miss having her in my belly.  Also, I never really expected to be pregnant so there was a surreal quality to the whole experience; even after the ultrasounds and feeling her move inside me, it was hard to believe it was actually happening.

I’m also still processing our birth experience.  While I wouldn’t label it traumatic, it was not the magical experience I had anticipated:  the several failed induction attempts and the persistent throwing up from the medication; the unbelievable pain of them trying to break my water (4 times…); the birth plan that I knew not to expect to go perfectly, but did not expect that NOT ONE PART OF THE PLAN would actually happen; the c-section I didn’t want but in retrospect was probably inevitable; the sheer terror I felt before and during the surgery; how seriously awful the maternity nurses were (sorry, but it’s true…I believe every word of this article); how I don’t remember holding her for the first time because of all the drugs in my system (there are pictures though, thank goodness); how I had a uterine clot burst two days after she was born; how I blew up like a balloon for almost 3 weeks afterwards from all the excess fluids they gave me, to the point where most of my MATERNITY clothes didn’t even fit; how two lactation consultants and two pediatricians at a designated breast feeding friendly hospital (that has a tongue tie clinic!) could fail to diagnose a tongue tie; how incredibly HARD breastfeeding is; how what I expected to be this massively empowering experience just left me in tears, wanting to sneak out of the hospital with my baby and go home.  (In fact, I was contemplating just that when the uterine clot burst and I suddenly found myself covered in blood.  When the nurse came in and told me not to panic, even though it was quite clear SHE was panicking, I really wanted to run).

And then, how much I wished my dad were here, not only because he would have loved being a grandfather again but because he would have made me focus on the positives…like we got a really great, healthy baby and let’s just move on, rather than seethe with rage.

***

Alas, I still have moments of seething.

***

Recently I overheard my husband tell someone that the baby arrived at just the right time, as she has been a bright shining spot after my father’s death.  He’s not wrong, but at the same time as happy as the baby’s arrival has been it has not made the loss of my father any less significant.  In fact, there have been moments when it felt like the bandaid holding my heart together was ripped off, because Dad should be here.  He should have been there in the hospital when my family came to meet the baby, he should be there when we visit Maine, he should be there to make her laugh just like he did with his other grandkids.  When I get upset I ask myself what he would say to me if he were here, and I always think he would say, “Don’t worry, I’m right here”.  I can only hope that’s true.

Before he died, Dad’s wonderful oncology nurse asked him what his favorite song was and it took some careful consideration on his part before deciding what that song was.  It was seemingly an unlikely choice for my Johnny Cash loving father, but he said his favorite was “Today” by the Christy Minstrels.  It was played practically on repeat up until he died.  (I just remembered I wrote about this here.)

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine
A million tomorrows shall all pass away
‘Ere I forget all the joy that is mine today

All those failed gratitude journals, all those attempts at finding some good every day?  Well, it turns out that it took my father dying and this song being stuck in my head for me to really get it.  I sung this to the baby while I was pregnant, it was the first song I sang her after she was born, and I’ve sung it to her every. single. day since.  At first I did it because my dad couldn’t; it was the best tribute to him that I could think of and I wanted to be able to tell her when she got older that this was her Grampa’s song.   As it turns out though, no matter how terrible a day I’ve had, no matter how exhausted I am (and oh lord I am exhausted), one smile from that baby and it’s like Christmas and singing this song is a great way to stop and appreciate it.  (I mean, seriously.)  And nine times out of ten, she smiles when I sing it.  While he was sick Dad tried to find some joy in every day, and whether he knew what he was doing or not by choosing this song, he managed to get me to do the same.

Oddly enough, the last thing my dad said to me in person was “you need to write a book, and you need to sing“.  He’d spent the last twenty years telling me to write so that wasn’t anything new, but I thought the part about singing was an odd thing to say – not the least of which being that while I sing a lot, I don’t exactly sing well.  At the time I had no idea those would be his parting words to me, although in retrospect I think he knew.  I’m not sure what sort of singing he really had in mind, but I hope that in those dark early mornings, when I am singing to a sleepy, soft-haired baby, that he hears me too.

 

 

 

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The Spoils of Summer

It was…an *interesting* summer.  In large part because of this:

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(Photo by Wood+Copper)

Being pregnant for the first time at age 45 is not for the faint of heart, especially after 2+ years of trying (including all sorts of medical procedures along the way).  That’s a whole other post entirely, one that I don’t even know if I can write any time soon – if at all.  Partly because  it’s a difficult and super private thing, but also because PREGNANCY BRAIN IS REAL, PEOPLE and most of the time I feel like half my brain just got up and walked away.  At this point I just hope it comes back.

I’ve had a fairly uneventful 12.5 weeks, so much so that I can now understand how some women are blissfully unaware they are pregnant.  But because I knew I *was* pregnant, and because I am by nature an anxious worrywort, I have spent the past three months freaking out about Every.  Blessed.  Thing.  (I’m told this is normal.)  The fact that I’ve had virtually no morning sickness worries me (although I will confess that it amuses me a bit, since both my mom and sister spent 9 months throwing up and I just assumed I’d be in the same boat).  Mostly I’ve just been tired, so there was a lot of sitting on the couch knitting…mostly for other babies that arrived this summer (or will be arriving this fall).  I also finally found some quilting mojo and was able to sew a few baby quilts (again, for other people).    Here’s the parade of sweaters, all using Malabrigo Worsted (pretty much my favorite yarn):

The top left blue and yellow sweaters, made for our friends’ boy/girl twins, are the Hyphen pattern, which I highly recommend as an easy knit.  The green one (it looks teal, but it’s really green) is Leaf Love, another fairly easy knit (and I love the off-set on it).  And then finally, the little blue sweater with the leaf placket is Cascade (all links on Ravelry).  I found Cascade a bit challenging, in fact I was going to make another one but so far have ripped it out at least four times.  I think it’s doomed.

On the quilt front, 2 “Yellow Brick Road” baby quilts were made, for the aforementioned twins (pics aren’t great, I had them all packed up before I remembered I hadn’t taken any pictures, and they are super wrinkly):

crab-quilt

The white fabric actually has pale blue clouds on it, but it’s not showing in the picture.

mouse-quilt

I decided that for the next baby quilt I would try a new pattern.  I can’t find this pattern in the sewing room, I hope it didn’t get thrown out, but there are a bunch of chevron designs out there.

whale-quilt

This…not my favorite.  Partly because I used two directional prints and they just didn’t work the way I had hoped.  Also, the pattern itself did not call for borders, but without them the quilt was really tiny, but then I regretted adding them.  And it’s too bad, because this fabric was kind of pricey.  Oh, well.

At the moment, my projects for OUR baby are on hold until we find out whether it is a girl or a boy.  Because I’m old, we’re having some genetic testing done that should give us the gender in the next week or so, rather than having to wait until 18-20 weeks.  I will admit that I have been secretly hoarding mermaid fabric (the Mendocino line by Heather Ross), just in case it’s a girl.  To be fair, I have a pile of blue yarn in case it’s a boy!

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Midsummer Miscellany

  1.  Back around  Christmas I somehow clicked on the wrong button and, poof, we became Amazon Prime members.  That led to the discovery of Acorn, which is a subscription service that gives you streaming access to all sorts of British television, including my latest obsession:  TIME TEAM.  It’s a show about a bunch of quirky British archaeologists running around Britain digging up remains of the Roman Empire, among other things.  When I was a kid I went through a phase where I desperately wanted to be an archaeologist, and this show has me wanting to dig up the backyard.  I’m a little obsessed.
  2. Were I to dig up our backyard, I would have to navigate the many skeletons of dead mice that one of the cats keeps dragging home.  I was actually fine with her killing the mice,  but when she caught a bird I made Erik buy her a collar with a bell on it.  The collar in no way deterred her, in fact I watched in despair one morning as she tortured a chipmunk while the little bell on her neck tinkled away.  (In her defense, the stupid chipmunk kept running off and then coming back, even after Erik intervened with a broom.)  So far, she’s lost two bell collars and the dead mice keep piling up. dip digging
  3. Although only one bird has come up on the wrong side of the living, I am now conflicted about filling the bird feeder.  I worry I’m luring them to their inevitable demise at the paws of the Dipster Kitty.  Technically there’s no need to fill the feeders this time of year, except that I like having the birds around, but this of course presupposes that the birds are alive.
  4. The other problem is that, after she lost a third of her fur and I became worried that someone would call the ASPCA on us, and after several trips to the vet, we discovered over the winter that this cat is allergic to normal cat food, necessitating the purchase of ridiculously expensive cat food made with rabbit.  Once we changed her food she perked up quite quickly and her hair grew back.  All was well until she started catching critters, and even though she’s not eating them completely, we are starting to see indications she’s over-grooming again and think she probably is supplementing her diet.
  5. The obvious answer, you’d think, would be to leave the cat inside.  The problem with that is she beats up on the other cats, runs around IN CIRCLES as if she is chasing a ghost, PEES ON THE WINDOWSILLS to mark her territory (!), and generally makes life miserable for everyone else.
  6. Yes, we *have* watched “My Cat From Hell”, why do you ask?
  7. In other news, I am going through one of my increasingly frequent “I want to move back to Maine” spells.  There is truly nothing like summer in Maine, and I miss it, and also if someone could maybe FedEx me a lobster roll and a big bunch of lupines I’d be much obliged.
  8. I still miss my Dad.  A few days before he died we were up in Maine visiting him, and on the way home we listened to an NPR segment on Florence & the Machine.  They played the song “Saint Jude” and I cried, because even though I had no idea I still knew….“and even though I’m grieving I’m trying to find the meaning / let loss reveal it”.  At any rate, I keep hearing this song in weird places, like restaurant bathrooms, and it gives me goosebumps.
  9. If you are here for the knitting, there’s been a lot of that while I’ve been watching Time Team.  Skeins of Malabrigo Worsted keep following me home from yarn stores, begging to be turned into baby sweaters, and I am happy to oblige because the people we know keep procreating.  I continue to be conflicted about knitting baby sweaters with hand-wash wool, because I’m guessing it’s pretty impractical, what with babies generally being messy…but, well, I’m not the one that has to worry about that part. I just keep making them.  (New favorite pattern here….I’m on my third one.)
  10. Looking forward to our annual August camping trip, this time to Lily Bay in Rangeley, as well as two weddings and a family get-together.  Also looking forward to our anniversary at the end of September, because every time I open the freezer the top layer of our wedding cake taunts me.  I can’t believe it’s lasted this long.
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The Honeymoon Part 4 (West and Misc.)

I mentioned we bought a guidebook, and the author raved about Furnas, a popular tourist destination on the western third of the island.  So, we dutifully set off to see the steam plumes and the Terra Nostra botanic garden; I also had hoped to see how they cook stew in the ground, in big pots heated by the volcanic forces bubbling down below.

Like everywhere else on the island, getting to Furnas wasn’t that hard (though yet again the thick fog plagued us all morning).  Finding our way in Furnas was a whole other matter entirely, and we were supremely grumpy after about the fifth time we circled around town trying to find what we were looking for.  It’s definitely possible our mood affected our visit, but this was our least favorite day.

First, we stopped off at the steam plumes, which are right smack dab in the center of town.  Basically Furnas is a furnace.  Or more specifically, it’s sitting on top of a geological furnace.  It’s interesting and all, but I wish they’d left these in a more natural state.  Instead, they’ve tourist-trapped these sites so where rather than marvel at the fact that you are standing on a volcano, you are reading hokey signs that seem completely out of place with their environment.  I went out of my way to *not* take pictures of those signs, and now I regret it, but they were…strange.  At any rate, here we go:

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Somehow we missed the place where they cook the stew, so we moved on to the Terra Nostra botanical garden.  Our guidebook raved about this place, but we just found it sort of sad and unkempt and not very interesting.  Maybe we were just too early in the tourism season and they hadn’t done any work yet? Maybe our combined grumpiness and the cloudy weather were affecting how we saw the place?

terra nostra 2

terra nostra 3

terra nostra 4

terra nostra 1

The big thing to do here is swim in the big thermal pool, which is full of rust-colored mineral water.  We had really looked forward to this, and in fact I’d even brought an old bathing suit because I had read that the water can stain fabric.  But once we were there it was just…unappealing, I guess?  And the water wasn’t as hot as we had expected, so we passed.  After a spectacularly mediocre lunch we decided to head out to Nordeste to see a bird sanctuary.  It was closed, and we spent another two hours lost out of our minds, but on the way home we found a waterfall; I’d tell you where it was if I could remember…

waterfall

blue thing 4

Happily, we saved the day by having a really nice dinner at a restaurant that, sort of oddly, is in the middle of what seemed to be an industrial park.  Here I proceeded to eat both the best and largest steak I have ever eaten.  There’s no factory farming here, just free range cows blissfully grass fed, and I’ll spare you my subsequent rant about the US industrial food complex and how it’s probably killing us.  After dinner (and my rant), we went back to the hotel for a nice swim and sauna, two of the best antidotes to travel crankiness I’ve ever found.

***

A few other pictures from the trip:

furnas 6

horse pasture

clouds coming

rib grande houses

village

hydrangea bee

rocks

rock walls

lizard

***

A Few Details

Hotel:  Pedras Do Mar Resort & Spa

Restaurants We’d Recommend:  Alabote in Ribeira Grande; Cafe Canto do Cais in Capelas (no website – probably the best meal we had!); Solar do Conde (also a hotel) in Capelas; O Alambique in Lagoa; the aforementioned Restaurante Associacao Agricola in Rabe de Peixe.  We also ate at the hotel one night, the food was good but the service was SO bad it was beyond reason.  Two people can eat shockingly well for under 30 euro.

We found the nearest Sol Mar (grocery store) and stocked up on bottled water and snacks for the car and for our hikes.  There aren’t a lot of convenience stores, and most of the gas stations we stopped at just sold gas.  Also, buy gas well before you hit empty as the gas stations are spread out a bit.

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The Honeymoon Part 3 (East Sao Miguel)

We headed south then east on the “fast roads”, up the coast through a bunch of little towns and then due north towards one of the most famous landmarks on Sao Miguel, Lagoa das Sete Cidades.  It’s the quintessential postcard/tourism marketing photo commonly used for the Azores and one of the “seven wonders of Portugal” – two lakes formed in the crater of a volcano on the eastern side of the island.  One lake is blue (ish), the other green (ish).  The legend is that a princess fell in love with a farmhand, but her father forbade the marriage.  One lake represents the tears of the princess, the other the farmhand.

(For the record, they both looked sorta the same to us.)

Our first trip up the windy roads was thick with fog, in some places we could barely see five feet in front of the car.  When we got to the top there was nothing but gray, but we stopped anyway because E needed a break from driving and I needed to pry my hand off the car door handle, because I’d had a death grip on it for the whole half hour up the road.  A sore hand and this picture is all I got from that trip (and for some reason this photo will only post giant-size or thumb-nail size, so giant-size it is):

cd flower

The next afternoon, we thought we had a window of opportunity with the weather and went back.  This time we took the secondary roads, rather than “the fast road”, and I continued with my “We’re gonna die” chant until we reached the top.

cd view

Another shot from a different viewpoint, the clouds were starting to role back in at this point, though here you can see one side is slightly greener than the other:

cd view 2

On the way down the mountainside we stopped at another viewpoint and hiked on a dirt road for a bit –  I’m pretty sure that dirt road is featured in this video (which, incidentally, aptly portrays how I felt the whole week while in the car).  Here, on one side we could see down into the valley, where the fog was trapped:

valley 1

In contrast, on the other side of the road, it was clearing off and we could see down to the coast into the town of Mosteiros, which has these cool big rocks just off the coast:

mosteiros rocks

mosteiros cows

(The cows get the best views.)

We wound our way down the mountain into the little village, where we got a bit more up close and personal with the Atlantic Ocean, where you can really get a feel for how the island was formed from volcanic activity…

mosteiros houses

mosteiros ocean

mosteiros rocks 2

mosteiros volcanic rocks

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a few more vantage points, which were almost always well landscaped with hydrangeas and/or these weird blue flowers (also came in white)  – Google tells me they are agapanthus, or “Lily of the Nile”:

blue things by the sea

blue thing 2

blue thing

And then finally, this peeking out from the treetops:

windmill

Not done yet…

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The Honeymoon, Part 2 (Cha Gorreana)

There were parts of the trip that I found quite emotional.  Ever since my dad passed away I have been acutely aware of his absence, but while we were away I kept thinking, “I have to tell Dad about this” or “I can’t wait to show Dad a picture of that”.  And then, the heartrending letdown when I realized that wasn’t going to happen, that he was still gone.  At one point I burst into tears, but then started laughing hysterically because really?  Dad would have hated this place.  He would have hated the bathrooms, he would have hated the roads, he would have hated the flight, and he would have hated how they don’t debone the fish.  You could kill somebody with that fish, I could just hear him sputtering.   He would have hated the lack of signage, he would have hated the crazy drivers, he would have hated the cows, and he would have hated being on an island that is basically a volcano waiting to erupt sometime in the next 300,000 years.  Because you never know.

But he probably would have liked the tea factory we visited.

Erik is a big fan of kombucha, a fermented tea that he started homebrewing a few months ago.  So when we found out that Sao Miguel is home to the only tea plantations in Europe, we knew we had to visit them.  And we did visit them; in fact, we went to Gorreana THREE times.  The first time, we spent a half day there, first touring the factory then hiking up through the hills.  The second time was because Erik wanted to take a few more pictures and buy some more tea.  I don’t even remember why we stopped the third time, but I’m pretty sure we got the side-eye from one of the ladies working in the gift shop, because normal people probably don’t go to a tea factory three days in a row.  We also stopped by the other tea factory on the island, but it felt like a museum and frankly, we felt unwelcome…it was weird, and it started pouring, so we moved on to other things.  But Gorreana is definitely worth the trip.

gorreana 2

gorreana 1

Located right off one of the “fast roads” on the northern coast, Gorreana is easy to get to from pretty much anywhere on the island.  We were lucky that we went on the one nice day we had all week (though it still rained on us at one point during the hike).  It’s ridiculously beautiful, and we learned a lot.  There’s no tour, per se, you just wander through the building on your own, which felt a little awkward, but there’s some interpretive signage, plus they give you free tea at the end.  I had never given tea growing much thought; I had no idea it grew in hedges, or what it looked like before harvesting.  The factory uses very traditional methods for processing the tea, it’s all pesticide free (because there are no pests), and there was even a small group of ladies in the back who hand-sort the dried tea and then package it.    This was one of the times when I wished I’d learned Portuguese, because I would have liked to ask the tea sorting ladies some questions but they didn’t speak English.  Or maybe they were just sick of being asked the same questions by tourists for the umpteenth time?  (I know I would be.)   We also learned that before WWI/II (I can’t remember exactly which war it was) there were several tea factories on the island, but Gorreana was one of the few to survive in part because they developed their own hydropower from the river that runs through the property.

gorreana 3

Across the road from the factory, you can hike up into the tea fields, and then up even higher into cow pastures and forests of Japanese red cedar.

gorreana 4

gorreana 5

gorreana 6

gorreana 7

gorreana 8

gorreana 9

gorreana 10

At one point we stopped to watch them harvest some of the tea — they have this weird sort of lawnmower-ish contraption that they graze the tops of the plants with.  Note that they are all wearing rubber overalls – I found out why during our hike:  those tea bushes have SHARP and sturdy stems.  I got back to the car from the hike and realized I had blood dripping down my leg from where one nabbed me in the calf.

gorreana 11

gorreana 12

The hike we did was billed as “easy”…a 6km (about 3.7 miles) walk.  They lied, though to be fair the topography chart on the trail map should have been a clue.  Let me just stop right here and say that I’ve spent the past year and a half working out with a personal trainer, and I am stronger now that I’ve been in a good twenty years.  Even Erik, who is an avid hiker and takes his equipment-filled backpack to the gym to walk on the treadmill, said this was not an easy hike, and I don’t think it was an “appease the wife so she feels better” thing.  This hike was basically straight up and straight down.  Luckily, the views were amazing.

gorreana 13

gorreana 14

gorreana 15

gorreana 16

At this point of the hike I thought we were done, and my camera battery chose this spot to die on me, but there was in fact more to climb.  Getting to the top involved navigating a very steep, muddy, and cow-pie filled path, but we made it, and have the iPhone selfie to prove it!

gorreana selfie

The other fun thing about Gorreana was the flowers around the facility.  While Erik bought tea, I amused myself by taking pictures:

gf1

gf2

gf3

gf4

gf6

Last, but not least:  this guy and his friends were croaking their little heads off in a tiny pond on the grounds.  {Their croaking sounded a lot like a certain bodily function, and so “Gorreana Toads” are now to blame for any breaking of wind in our vicinity.  Because sometimes we behave like eight-year olds.}

gorreana toad

One more post, possibly two…

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