Category Archives: Life

Pregnancy: the finish line

I am 38 weeks pregnant. This makes me, I realized today, the most pregnant person I know.

38 weeks of baby growing, completed.

38 weeks of baby growing, completed.

It’s weird, because occasionally, I feel like I just got pregnant, like, yesterday, but most days I feel like I’ve been pregnant since Jesus was a baby. Some days I really like being pregnant, and other days I am ready to eject this baby from my body and get on with the next step, already. I’ve been having more and more of the latter type of days over the past several weeks as being in my body has gotten less and less comfortable. Please allow me to complain about the many aches and pains of pregnancy for a moment. Putting on and taking off pants, in particular, has become one of my least favorite things to do. Oh, the groin pain! Bending over to put on shoes? Horrible. Waking up in the middle of the night with the whole side of my head throbbing from being compressed on the pillow? ALSO NOT FUN. I guess this is why everyone says the last few weeks of pregnancy are the worst, physically. They weren’t kidding!

But up until just a few weeks ago, I could still put on my pants without making grunting noises. I could still bend over without getting winded. So, like a chump, I thought I was going to escape the worst of the fabled pregnancy aches and pains since I’d had such an easy time of things, for the most part, up to that point. But the last weeks of pregnancy come for us all, eventually, and none of us escape unscathed. I guess what I’m saying is that I won’t miss the physical complications that come along with hauling around a fully cooked baby inside one’s body. It ain’t easy.

But there are things about pregnancy that I think I will miss. For one thing, people have been SO NICE to me since I’ve become visibly pregnant. People offer to carry things for me and let me go ahead of them in line. Strangers smile at me. Strangers COMPLIMENT me. Just today, I was blow-drying my hair at the YMCA in my bra and underwear (that locker room’s a sweatbox, but I’m not about to go full old lady and let it all hang out — yet), and a woman smiled at me and told me my belly was “beautiful.” Another woman in the elevator the other day told me how cute I looked. Listen, never in my life has a stranger told me I looked cute without an ulterior motive. But people genuinely love a pregnant woman, I’ve found, especially ladies who have been through it themselves. Something about seeing a round belly seems to inspire warm, fuzzy feelings in people and they want to share them. At least, this has been my experience. I have heard horror stories about people saying all sorts of outrageously insulting things to pregnant women. But I’ve been lucky in that people have been nice to me, with nary an insult thrown my way. And I have to be honest, I’ll miss the special treatment when this baby is on the outside.

Speaking of which, I still haven’t totally wrapped my mind around the fact that I’m going to be a parent in approximately two weeks. Most of the time, I float through my day in a cloud of denial. That sounds bad, but I don’t know what else to call it. It’s not that I’m not insanely excited about having a baby, it’s just that thinking about the fact that I’m going to be responsible for another human’s ENTIRE LIFE in a fortnight is a little overwhelming. I mean, just typing that sentence is giving me a mild panic attack.

Is this really happening?!

Is this really happening?!

But I hear that feeling overwhelmed at this stage of pregnancy is normal. After all, it’s easy to pretend the kid’s never going to come out when you still have months and months stretching ahead of you on the baby countdown. But when you start counting down to your due date in weeks instead of months, and then days instead of weeks, things start looking pretty real — and kind of scary. Scary wonderful! I think! …Eh, I don’t know. I’m basically a walking bag of hormones these days, so take everything I’m saying with a grain of estrogen.

Anyway, since I don’t think I’ll be writing about this topic again over the next two weeks, this will be my final word on the matter. And that final word is: EEK!

On New Year’s resolutions

I used to be a big New Year’s resolutions person. At the start of each new year, I’d come up with an ambitious list of things I wanted to better about myself. My mother recently sent me a whole box of my old journals (I was a prodigious journal keeper from age nine to age nineteen, when I finally evaluated the wisdom of writing my innermost thoughts and feelings down on paper, where they might become discoverable by other people). I was paging through a journal that I kept in 1996/1997 (so, when I was fourteen — eesh), and I found this amusing snippet from January 1, 1997:

“A resolution… hmm… to wash my face more fervently. Maybe that’s not the right word. Just to be more committed to doing my face. Another resolution: to become my new self and be so cool (not “cool” like kids think, but cool, like my kind of cool), that people will be inspired by me. When I say cool, I mean … artistic, etc. And really nice to everyone, and indifferent to those who are less mature. I think those are reasonable, don’t you? I mean, I’m not going to resolve to cure cancer or solve world hunger. People who do that are unrealistic! Well, the first one might be feasible for a team of brilliant scientists.”

I like how I thought inspiring people with my “coolness” and maturity was realistic, but curing cancer wasn’t. Sure, fourteen year-old Stephanie. Dream big.

This was the girl resolving to inspire people with her coolness.

Resolutions are bunk. Case in point: this was the girl resolving to inspire people with her coolness. 

I made New Year’s resolutions well into adulthood, but a few years ago, I kind of stopped. I think this is because as an adult, the things I need to work on about myself have become so immutable that to resolve to chip away at them afresh year after year feels pointless, or worse, discouraging. If every single January I resolve anew to be less neurotic, worry less, stress less, etcetera, I have to begin to wonder if I’ve made any progress at all over the last year on those exact same resolutions. Because for adult me, my resolutions always boil down the same thing: don’t be such a stress case. Be more Zen. Stop worrying so much.

Another problem with my particular perennial resolution is that it’s hard to measure whether or not one is worrying less than the year before. How would one ever track such a thing? A year-long spreadsheet in which one tallies the time and energy one has spent worrying? That seems, to put it mildly, to defeat the point. And resolving to not worry at all feels, if I may borrow a word from my fourteen year-old self, unrealistic. My solution to this conundrum has been to simply stop resolving to worry less — or resolving to do anything else differently, for that matter.

Part of this failure to make resolutions is informed by my understanding of what a resolution actually is. To me, a resolution is a promise you make to yourself (and others, if you declare it publicly) to do something better or different: quit smoking, eat healthier, spend more time with family, make the bed every morning, etc. And, as I said, the principal thing I want to do differently each year usually comes down to going easier on myself and not stressing over things that ultimately don’t matter. Unfortunately, I suspect that this is something I’m going to have to work on until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil, because I’m sort of a tightly wound lady, and that’s just how it is. So what’s the point of restating the same resolution every year? Better to just keep it in the back of my mind and remind myself not to blow a gasket when things go wrong. That’s seemed to work for me so far. Yoga helps, too.

Making a list of yearly goals, though — that I can get behind. Goals, to me, are far more satisfying than resolutions. Goals are things you can check off a list, or at least work toward checking off a list. They’re fun to think about and to imagine. And, best of all, they don’t require making an inventory of one’s weaknesses and failings, as resolutions do. I have so many goals for the new year, including getting a novel published (or on the way to being published), publishing another short story in a reputable literary magazine, expanding my freelancing work, and keeping a new human alive and healthy. (That last one’s kind of a big one.)

If I had to pick my number one goal for this coming year, it would be to keep another human being alive, and not go crazy in the process. Now this is something I can measure, come New Year’s 2016. If I’m institutionalized next year, we’ll know I failed. As for New Year’s resolutions, who needs ’em?

Happy New Year, by the way.

Book review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

I love a good house-cleaning binge. Every year or so, Al and I go through our stuff and do a giant purge, tossing out things with wild abandon, and we always feel SO GOOD afterwards. It’s like a workout for the spirit, getting rid of unnecessary stuff. There’s something deeply satisfying about putting things you no longer need in trash-bags and hauling them to the curb, or, even better, loading them into boxes and dropping them off at the Salvation Army. Yet, despite our periodic purges, over time, stuff — different stuff, but stuff nonetheless — always manages to creep into our house again. Thus, a yearly purge remains necessary for our household. I think this is a typical problem — too much stuff, and negotiating how to get rid of it — but it still bugs me, and I spent a not insignificant amount of time pondering it.

Life-Changing-Magic-330x320

This preoccupation with purging superfluous stuff and preventing clutter rebounds is why I was so intrigued when I got a copy of Marie Kondo’s slim, attractive little book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Kondo is a Japanese organization expert — don’t you just instinctively trust someone with those credentials? — and she’s devised her own method, the KonMari Method — for tidying up and, here’s the catch, having your house stay tidy. The basic message of Kondo’s method is that you should surround yourself only with things you love, and in her book, she provides step-by-step guidance on how to achieve that.

Kondo’s basic method is different from many other organization experts’ in that she rejects the idea that one should tidy a little each day to make a dent in your clutter. Instead, she supports the idea of one, giant purge, treated as a “special event,” and done methodically, by category. That is, instead of tidying room by room, Kondo recommends tidying by category of thing: first clothes, then books, papers, miscellany, and finally, mementos. The single selection criteria for each item, Kondo stresses, is whether or not it brings you joy. She provides actual guidance about how to determine whether an item — say, a book — brings you joy, which often involves placing all items on the floor and picking them up one by one and waiting for a spark.

There’s a ton of solid, practical advice in Kondo’s book about how to effectively tidy and organize, including tips on efficiently folding clothes and socks, but what I found most useful were the lists in the book of various types of komono (miscellany) that people tend to hold onto “just because.” These include cosmetic samples saved for trips, electronics packages, spare buttons, and unidentified cords. I found Kondo’s observation that “Mysterious cords will always remain that — a mystery,” and that it’s easier and faster to just buy a new one than to dig through a giant tangle of cords, to be particularly liberating. I kept it in mind as I tossed out a huge box of cords and plugs Al and I had been holding onto for a rainy day.

I’m a huge fan of this book and I do plan on using Kondo’s method to tidy my own house from top to bottom — just not right now. We’re having a baby in a month and I know that means we’re going to have a huge influx of new stuff into our house, like it or not. Undoubtedly, some of that stuff will be less useful/joy-provoking than other stuff, and that’s okay. We can make decisions about what to purge later, once we figure out what we need to be parents. Instead, pre-baby, Al and I opted for a stop-gap purge  of our basement, getting rid of tons of cardboard boxes, wires, old papers, books, and household gadgets we’ll never use. I kept Kondo’s advice about interrogating whether an object sparks joy in mind, especially as I cleared out my books. I tend to cling to books (and given the content of this blog, that probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone), so in the past, it’s been hard for me to part with them. This time, though, I found myself easily tossing books away because they didn’t bring me joy. I guess the method works! Recommended for those who are ready to get their stuff organized — for the last time.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh

Happy belated Thanksgiving! To think: only a few, short days ago, we were still basking in the golden glow of everyone’s favorite gluttony-and-gratitude-based holiday, and now we’re deep in the throes of Cyber Monday (which lately has been extended to Cyber Week)-style cut-throat consumerism. Sunrise, sunset. I don’t know, wouldn’t Thanksgiving be even better if it weren’t immediately followed each year by events in which people get trampled to death in parking lots? Of course, I say all of this as I contemplate buying a severely marked-down food processor online. At least I’m not trampling anyone. Yet.

This year, for the first time since 2011, Al and I were in the U.S. for Thanksgiving (last year we were in London and the year before that, Cape Town). The day before the holiday, we drove out to Pittsburgh to visit Al’s friends Hakan and Meredith, who recently moved there from Louisiana. The drive to Pittsburgh from Alexandria was supposed to take four hours, but between the unrelenting snow and my compressed bladder, it took us six-and-a-half. Frequent (and annoying) pee breaks are the new normal for preggo me, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Despite all the stops, though, we got to Pittsburgh before it got dark.

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner

Pittsburgh, as it turns out, is a pretty cool town! I had never been there before, but I’d heard good things, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s an old industrial town filled with red-brick buildings and steel bridges and funicular railways running up steep hills. Since it has that aging steel town vibe, it lends itself well to hipster enclaves, and there are lots of fun, young neighborhoods packed with cool bars and shops and restaurants. Plus, since there are a ton of universities and colleges in town, there are plenty of museums and cultural events. Of course, the only “cultural event” in which we participated while there was a showing of Disney’s Newsies (the musical), but hey, you do what you can.

Our Thanksgiving day was nice and low-key. Meredith and Hakan did most of the cooking (turkey, stuffing, carrots, cranberries), but I contributed mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie (using the same recipe as I used two years ago, except minus the hand-roasted and pureed pumpkin, now that I’m back in a country where canned pumpkin is a thing), and a gallon-sized bag of Chex cookies ‘n cream Muddy Buddies. We sat down to eat dinner around four and then went downtown to see the evening show of Newsies, which was pretty faithful to the delightfully cheesy 1992 movie of the same name, except with more pirouettes and high kicks!

The next night, we went to dinner in Shadyside, a hip neighborhood in the East End of Pittsburgh. We ate at the astonishingly unfashionable hour of 5:30 (in fact, when the restaurant called to confirm our reservation, they asked whether anyone in our party had “trouble going up and down stairs”), and it was great. Now that I’m in my thirties (and seven months pregnant), I really enjoy eating early and then being able to digest for a few hours before going to bed early. I figure this lifestyle will make my transition to the nursing home that much easier when the time comes!

We bid our friends adieu on Saturday morning and drove back to Virginia. The snow had melted and we made quick time on the way back, even with all of my many pee stops. We were sad to say goodbye to our pals, but now that they live much closer, I’m sure we’ll see them again soon. As we drove back, I reflected on all of the things I’m thankful for this year. There are a lot, but most of them can be boiled down to the following: the baby, Al, my family, and living in a country in which canned pumpkin is abundant.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Thirty-two

Today is my birthday. I’m 32. There’s nothing particularly exciting about 32, or any birthday, really, after 30 and before 40. They’re all kind of ‘meh’ birthdays, aren’t they? But I suppose this birthday feels more significant to me than it otherwise would because I’m 26 weeks pregnant, and there’s something about having a little person kicking around inside you that imbues everything with a sense of importance. After all, I’ll be 32 when I have this baby, so 32 suddenly has become an important age. This is the last birthday I’ll celebrate as a pre-parent. It’s the first birthday I’ve had in a while where I didn’t drink too much (sigh). It’s the first birthday I celebrated in our new house. So, really, it feels like quite an adult birthday — maybe my first really grown-up birthday.

Spending my birthday in maternity jeans.

Spending my birthday in maternity jeans.

It’s strange to think that this is the third birthday I’ve recorded since starting this blog two years ago. When I started this thing, I was just turning 30, quitting my lawyer job, and moving to South Africa, and at the time, those life changes felt so momentous. And they were, of course. But now, at 32, the changes I’m facing are even MORE momentous. I mean, for crying out loud, I’m going to have a KID in three months! There’s going to be another person living with me and Al — permanently (well, at least for the next 18 years or so). It’s CRAZY. And I know logically that life can’t continue to shift and evolve at the rate that it has for me over these past few years (and I think that’s a good thing), but it is exciting to have something big happening at the turn of every single year. I’m not one of those people who hates getting older, because every year, life gets better. It’s not always easier, but it is better.

In this, my thirty-third year, I know some stuff is going to get harder (see, e.g., poopy diapers), but I am pretty sure that things are going to get even more awesome than they already are. Here we go!

The big news

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog, although it’s not been for lack of things to say. On the contrary, my silence has sprung from being overwhelmed with just how much has been happening. That’s not a complaint; there has just been a LOT going on, and I haven’t had time until now to sit down and record it for posterity. For one thing, Al and I bought our first house! Then, four days after we moved in, we took off for a three-week trip to New Zealand! Oh, and also, I’m 24 weeks pregnant!

So yeah, there’s been a lot of stuff going on.

I will be blogging about our new house soon, I promise, and about our awesome NZ odyssey. But for now, let’s talk just a little about that the BIGGEST news, our pending bundle of joy, a girl, scheduled to arrive on February 3, 2015.

Official preggo

Official preggo bathroom selfie

Expecting a baby is, in a word, insane. Insane in the membrane, if I may expand my feelings into four words. Getting pregnant is a perfectly reasonable thing for Al and me to do, as thirty-something married people, but it still feels slightly crazy, as if we’re doing something completely outrageous and possibly illegal. I keep waiting for someone in a suit to knock on my door and tell me my parenting permit has been preemptively revoked, since, let’s be real, I still don’t know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff, and who am I to be raising another human? But I suppose all parents-to-be must feel like they’re not ready, and might never be ready, to be put in charge of a whole other person’s entire upbringing. In fact, I’d be kind of suspicious of any expectant parent who wasn’t a little freaked out by the vastness of the responsibility she’s suddenly facing down. I mean, in forty weeks, you go from a person who only has to worry about getting herself up in the morning (and maybe making sure her partner gets up, too) to a person who is responsible for keeping another (completely helpless) person ALIVE. The magnitude of that change is staggering, if you think about it long enough. So I tend not to.

This may sound obvious, but what keeps occurring to me is that deciding to have a kid is the most extreme thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve moved abroad by myself, I’ve quit my stable, lucrative job in favor of a career with little money and lots of uncertainty, I’ve gotten married, I’ve hitchhiked without a cell phone, and I’ve eaten suspicious street food in a variety of developing countries — but this pregnancy thing poses a whole new level of risk and challenge. I’m hoping that all the cliches about parenting being the greatest adventure and most wonderful gift are all true, but if they’re not, there’s not too much I can do about it now. I’m in this thing!

Clearly, I don’t have anything particularly new or insightful to say on the subject of pending parenthood, although I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll be sharing more thoughts on it as the Big Day approaches. For now, I just wanted to share the news that I am gestating a new person in my body (WHICH IS SO WEIRD, RIGHT?) and am feeling pretty psyched about it. Everything’s going fine, physically (I might write a little post on pregnancy itself at some point, too), and pretty well mentally, too. So, that’s that. Stay tuned for updates on New Zealand, home ownership, and life in general!

Stephanie’s favorite things

Remember how Oprah, before she became a full-time life coach for Lindsay Lohan, or whatever, used to have a show? And on that show, once a year, she’d tell everyone her “favorite things,” which were, without fail, utterly impractical, frivolous, and (it almost goes without saying) delightful? Oprah’s favorite things would be, like, “handcarved wooden boxes from Nepal in which to store your energy crystals,” and “handmade planter repurposed from thousand-year old Viking ship dredged from bottom of ocean,” and “handwoven, six-foot cashmere scarves sold by sentient, ethically raised goats,” and suchlike. But most people can’t afford to buy Oprah’s ridick favorite things (unless, of course, they sell the free car they got from Oprah), so I decided to write a list of favorite things for the rest of us. Yes, I’m not a known tastemaker like Oprah, but I do have a collection of Pinterest boards that I personally “curated” (read: clicked on stuff while watching TV), and that should count for something.

Below, you’ll find a very short and very incomplete list of a few products that make my life better and don’t cost very much. Thus, I snatch these products up at any and every opportunity. Some of them may be irrelevant to your life. Others you may find offensive (see item no. 1: dirty hippie deodorant). But maybe — just maybe — your life will change after reading this list. And that’s the goal here: changing lives.

MOVE OVER, OPRAH.

BEAUTY

1. Bionsen natural deodorant. Here’s a fun little secret about me: in some areas of my life, I’m a dirty hippie. And I mean that sort of literally. I don’t wear deodorant. There, I said it! Well, let me qualify that: I don’t wear deodorant that actually works. I read somewhere once, I think, that deodorant causes Alzheimers (the aluminum, and all), and ever since then, on the basis of something I think I read once, I’ve avoided regular deodorant. I gave up my beloved Lady Mitchum in favor of “natural” deodorants that not only didn’t work, but in some cases, actually made me smell worse. Then, one fine day while living in London, I discovered Bionsen. I’ve only ever seen this stuff in the UK, but you can definitely also get it on eBay. It claims to be made from “Japanese spa minerals,” whatever that means, and while that’s almost certainly a load of crap, it actually WORKS. Okay, let me qualify again. It works better than any other natural deodorant I’ve tried, except for maybe Malin & Goetz eucalyptus deodorant, but that stuff is twice as expensive (and it makes you smell like the Stanford campus, which, now that I think about it, is not necessarily a bad thing). So, if you, like me, are a secret dirty hippie who does not actually want to smell dirty, and also doesn’t want to pay $18 for one measly stick, look into Bionsen. When I was in London Heathrow Airport recently, I went into Boots and bought, like, six things of it. It’s that good.

2. L’Oreal Magic Skin Beautifier BB Cream. I used to think this stuff was only available in Europe because I got it in an airport in Germany, and it was called L’Oreal “Nude Magique,” and the label was in French, but guess what? It’s just called L’Oreal Magic here in the old U.S. of A, and it IS (magic, that is). It’s white, and slightly gritty, and it matches the shade of your face when you put it on, AS IF BY MAGIC. I have tried so many BB creams over the last couple of years that my behavior is teetering on the border of clinically insane. For years, I couldn’t stop myself from buying BB creams and trying them, thinking each time that THIS BB cream would be the one that would actually beautify my skin and make me look vaguely Japanese, but until L’Oreal Magic, I searched in vain. And listen, my skin is still blemish-prone and just Irish enough to include a healthy dose of rosacea, but this stuff does a really good job at making me look like I’m not a mutant cross between a sixteen year-old with acne and an old Irish person with a drinking problem. Sometimes I even wear it instead of foundation. I know! Go buy some; it’s not expensive, and it works.

3. Body Shop White Musk. If you’re at all like me, you’ve worn a lot of perfumes in your day. My first perfume was Gap Day, and it smelled like dish soap. My second perfume, a vast improvement, was Body Shop White Musk. Don’t let the name (and its offputting inclusion of the word “musk”) throw you off. This stuff smells so good, even after all these years. It’s light, fresh, and classic. When I was in South Africa, I stocked up on it, because I feel like I never see it in Body Shops here in the US, but turns out, that was unnecessary, because you can buy it online. Oh, well.

4. Maybelline Baby Lips lip balm. Again, please don’t be put off by the horrifying name. My husband actually shudders every time he sees the label or hears it advertised, but whatever, I love this stuff. I wear the “Cherry Me” color and it’s amazing. It’s bright enough to suffice for lipstick, but it also moisturizes. I carry one in every purse (which is doable since each stick of Baby Lips only costs a couple of bucks). Buy it in drug stores.

FOODSTUFFS

1. Teapigs licorice-peppermint tea. I once wrote a blog post about how I only drink Irish-style tea, with milk. Then I stopped drinking milk, and I realized I no longer enjoyed my regular Red Rose tea, and was forced, against my will, to branch out. I dipped a cautious toe into the waters of infusions, and ended up realizing that chamomile was not SO bad (but I still stand by my earlier contention that Earl Grey is the Devil’s work). Then, when I was in London, my sweet friend Yan Yan brought me a little baggie full of Teapigs licorice-peppermint tea and told me to try it. It took me a few weeks to drum up the courage to brew a cup, but once I did, I never looked back. I would now happily drink five cups of this stuff a day. It manages to be sweet, warming, and refreshing, all at the same time. I’ve tried other licorice-mint teas in the US, but nothing is as good as Teapigs. You can get it online but it takes a while (because it ships from the UK). Otherwise, it’s probably worth flying to England for.

teapigs

2. My one-cup coffee filter. I have a variety of coffeemakers in my house because, when people come over, it is much easier to brew a pot of coffee or pop a few pods into the ol’ Keurig than to make coffee my way, which is by brewing one, single, perfect cup. But ever since my dear friend Karen gave me a single-cup coffee filter holder in college, I’ve never made coffee for myself any other way. It’s cheap, it keeps me to one cup of coffee a day, and it tastes amazing. A filter cup costs $5.00. Buy one.

3. Quest Bars. Okay, these are kinda pricey, even when you order them bulk online (yes, I do that), but they’re SO GOOD and they’re full of protein. Since I travel a lot these days, going wherever Al happens to be working and living out of hotel rooms with him, it helps to not have to leave the hotel to get breakfast every day or, worse, pay for room service. So I travel with Quest Bars. They are filling and yummy and gluten-free, and I don’t feel like I just inhaled a cup of sugar after having eaten one. Al thinks the best flavor is cookies ‘n cream, but I’m a fan of the chocolate chip cookie dough. He says tomato, I say to-mah-to, etc. (Note: I don’t actually say to-mah-to).

4. PB2. Oh, hey, did you hear that I’ve gotten into smoothies recently? Well, I have. And what’s better than a smoothie with a ton of peanut butter in it, amirite?? But, being a peanut butter addict, I knew that if I purchased actual peanut butter and brought it into my house, it would be gone (into my stomach) within a day or two, so I decided to mitigate the damage and give PB2 a whirl. It’s this weird, dehydrated peanut stuff that tastes exactly like peanut butter but supposedly only has a quarter of the fat and calories. It might be sorcery. (I’m kind of okay with that). I dump this stuff into smoothies and it even makes KALE taste better. KALE.

WARMTH*

*A note about this category: I have such horrible circulation that keeping my hands and feet from falling off is a major challenge every winter (and spring… and fall). So when I find products that actually help me in my quest not to become an amputee, I take note.

1. K-Bell fleece leggings. This winter, when I was in Bangor, Maine, visiting family, the temperatures were so low, stepping outside felt like journeying into outer space. Al’s thoughtful stepmom, seeing that I was not at all prepared for the winter, gave me a pair of K-Bell fleece-lined leggings for Christmas, and they changed my life. They’re leggings…. lined with fleece. That is all you need to know. I own four pairs.

2. Timberland boots. These were another recent Maine discovery. Let me tell you: these boots are the real deal. You can stomp through snow drifts in them or wear them to the bar and feel sort of edgy, OR BOTH. They are unbelievably warm, and this is coming from a woman with notoriously terrible circulation. My feet DO NOT GET COLD in these. For anyone who has ever hung out with me during the winter (or, in fact, any time during the year), this should be endorsement enough. In case you need more endorsement, please see rapper Timbaland.

Timberland boots and a homemade hat

Timberland boots and a homemade hat

Well, that’s all I got for now. If you’re a TV producer looking to give me my own lifestyle show in which I dole out more advice about how not to smell terrible and what to put in smoothies, shoot me an email. Let’s talk.

 

My virtual life

Something disturbing happened to me earlier today, and I didn’t know how to explain it to my husband without it sounding at best, frivolous, and at worst, narcissistic. Nonetheless, I called him at work and tried not to sound as upset as I was.

“Al,” I said, “I just accidentally deleted all of my Twitter activity from my Facebook wall.”

There was a silence while Al tried to figure out how to react to this bombshell. “Oh no,” he said. “Sorry?” (He’s pretty good at guessing the right responses to things).

I explained to him that I was so upset about it because I had linked my Twitter account to my Facebook account years ago, which meant that 99% of all content I had ever posted on Facebook had actually been posted via Twitter. Thus, when I accidentally deleted all of my Twitter activity from Facebook, I deleted a huge online record of my life. And this, it turned out, was upsetting. Al consoled me as best he could, telling me that maybe the posts were salvageable (turns out, they weren’t). After that, there was really nothing more he could say. The record of my online activity was gone, and I had to accept it. Man.

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After scouring through my Facebook wall, I realized that I had only deleted all of my posts since July 2013 — so, only the last seven months of my online life. But those last seven months had contained so much! My entire time in London: gone. All of the articles and essays that had spoken to me: gone. And, the real tragedy, all of the funny jokes I had made: gone. Gone with the virtual wind!

I felt strangely bereft about this, and then, right on cue, felt guilty for being so self-obsessed. On the surface, losing seven months of one’s searing witticisms (and, more importantly, one’s friends’ reactions to said searing witticisms) should not be a big deal, unless one is a huge, self-involved narcissist. Which I’m totally not, I SWEAR. But I am a writer, and my Twitter feed, which was broadcast to a more personal audience via my Facebook, was, in a way, a body of my written work, however fluffy and silly it was. And, more importantly, it was a conversation between me and people who know me (and who care enough to comment on the stuff I put on social media). Yes, the Twitter feed itself still exists (on Twitter, no less), but the mingling of my Twitter posts with my friends’ reactions on my Facebook wall is gone forever. There were some really good debates, funny back-and-forths, and challenging discussions on that Facebook wall, and now they’re lost. Which begs the question: if a social media exchange falls into the internet hole and no one’s there to re-read it, did it make a sound? Did it ever even happen?

[Side note: I realize that I’m not doing a great job at making the case that I’m not a giant narcissist, but you’ll have to take my word for it. And plus, aren’t we all a bit narcissistic online? Part of the fun of social media is having one’s own wit and good cheer reflected back at one through the validation of one’s social networks. Right? Or is that just me?]

In any case, I’m not sure why I find this experience so unsettling. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that, to speak in terribly broad cliches for just a moment, a large chunk of my life really is lived online. I work at home, by myself, and I’m a writer. Throughout the day, I interact with the world by sharing my thoughts (and, if I dare, my feelings) with people online, some of whom I know personally, some of whom I know virtually, and some of whom I know not at all. Those interactions are then preserved in the amber of the internet, most prominently through my Facebook wall. Some people, especially people of my parents’ generation and older, find this concept horrifying, that one’s personal conversations, thoughts, and feelings could be captured on the Internet for all to see, potentially forever (or at least until the grid goes down), but I find it comforting. I can go back to my wall posts from four, five, seven, even ten years ago, and see what my friends and I were talking about, or what movie I had seen, or what book I had read. It’s all there, whether I remember it or not. It’s both a personal reminder of what I’ve gotten up to, and a specimen that’s been polished and presented for public consumption.

Whether all of this archival of my personal life is a good thing or a bad thing is, I suppose, up for debate, but I don’t find that debate to be particularly interesting, mostly because I tend to be, if not judicious, at least mindful about what I post online. If I share a tweet on my Facebook wall, generally, it’s because I think my friends will enjoy it, and I don’t tend to post particularly controversial or revealing things on social media. I’m old enough and (sort of) wise enough — or, at least, experienced enough with social media — at this point not to post anything that will later embarrass me or prevent me from holding public office (I think). And if the NSA wants to read my Facebook wall, I find it hard to get worked up about it. Yes, in theory, it’s scary to think about strangers having access to my social media offerings, but in another way, it’s kind of flattering. I mean, is it so wrong that I hope the NSA thinks I’m funny?

I guess it all boils down to the fact Facebook has been a deeply ingrained part of my life for the last decade (literally). I signed up for Facebook in March 2004, as a senior in college, and I’ve been using it consistently ever since. I’m an active and enthusiastic user, although I’ve adapted and polished the way I use it over the years (for example: I now post far fewer photos than I used to and look at far fewer people’s actual profiles). A large part of Facebook’s role in my life has been as a type of online repository for my memories: an interactive scrapbook filled with photos, videos, discussions, greetings, and jokes. It was always available for me to page back through whenever I was in need of a nostalgia boost. Losing seven months of that scrapbook is not the end of the world, of course, but it’s a little sad. I wish I were one of those aloof, “Oh, I never check Facebook; I’m too busy bicycling around North America” people, but I’m not. I’m someone who enjoys and appreciates social media in my own life and I rely on it to always be available to me. It’s disturbing to see how easily this record of my life online can vanish, and how utterly unable I am to piece it back together without the aid of the internet.

Maybe the solution is that I start writing in a diary, or composing old-fashioned pen-and-ink letters to my friends, or taking photos with a non-digital camera and developing them in a dark room. Or maybe the solution is just to accept that I can’t rely on an external service to preserve my memories for me. Or maybe I just need to take a step back and realize that my stupid tweets are not as interesting or important as I think they are. Or maybe it’s all of the above. For now, though, I’ll stick to shaking my fist at the sky and cursing Mark Zuckerberg, whose fault all of this is, anyway.

Happy tweeting and Facebooking to you all. Hug your tweets close tonight.

 

 

My ancestry

For Christmas a few years ago, Al got me a 23andMe genetic testing kit. I let it languish on the shelf until this past Christmas when I was back in San Francisco, when I finally got up the nerve to spit into a container and send it in to their lab. I had been avoiding it because I had convinced myself that the results would state clearly that I was a genetic ticking timebomb and then I’d never be able to unsee all the weird diseases I was no doubt carrying. (Some say that I have a bit of a tendency toward hypochondria, but let me go check WebMD). Several months later, I finally got the results of my genetic testing, which have been absolutely fascinating.

In case you’re not familiar, 23andMe is a company that does personal DNA mapping. For about $100, you can have all 23 of your chromosomes mapped and receive a wealth of information about your ancestry and your health (traits, risks, and so on). However, recently the FDA passed a totally BS ruling that prevents 23andMe from distributing health reports to its customers, so if you buy a kit now, you won’t receive detailed health reports, only ancestry information. The FDA decision didn’t apply to me since Al had gotten me the kit before the decision came down, so I got both detailed health reports and information about my ancestry.

While the health stuff was interesting for me (and a big relief, since I’m not a carrier for any of the horrifying genetic disorders they test for, despite my fatalistic attitude), the ancestry information was much more surprising. Here are some of the most jaw-dropping things I’ve learned about my genes.

ancestry

1. I’m 5.8% East Asian/Native American. Within that breakdown, 4.1% is Native American, and 1.7% is “nonspecific East Asian and Native American.” The Native American bit is actually Native Mexican, since my grandfather was Mexican-American. However, while I knew intellectually that Pop had Aztec blood, I didn’t realize how much; according to these numbers, a quarter of his genes must have been ethnically indigenous. Wow!

My great-aunt, Mary Rivero, 1915. This photo probably should have been my first clue that I had some Native American ancestry.

My great-aunt, Mary Rivero, 1915. This photo probably should have been my first clue that I had some Native American ancestry.

It’s funny; I feel like every American wants to be part Native American (there was a great Happy Endings episode about this where Dave discovers he’s 1/16 Navajo and starts wearing a fringed jacket out of respect). But personally, I think it’s pretty badass to be part Aztec. My people were ripping still-beating hearts out of chests before it was cool. Also, they built huge temples and invented face knives, so, you know, that’s pretty sweet.

2. I’m .3% Sub-Saharan African, .2% of which is specifically West-African. This is a real head-scratcher. My dad, my husband, and I all came up with theories about where this Sub-Saharan ancestry is coming from, but we actually have NO idea, given what we know about my family history. To my knowledge, there weren’t a lot of Sub-Saharan Africans hanging around in Ireland, Mexico, or Italy, the places where my genes most recently hail from. For a second, we thought maybe it had to do with the Moors conquering Spain and then the Spanish going on to Mexico, but the genetic report is pretty clear that I have no North African or Middle Eastern ancestry, so that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Now, obviously, I want both of my parents to map their genes so we can see whether the African blood is coming from my dad or my mom’s side. Given my parents’ respective melanin content, I’m gonna take a wild stab and guess it’s coming from my mom’s side, but one never knows.

My mom IS super tan.

My mom IS super tan.

3. I’m 87.6% European, 40.7% of which is Northern European, 12.1% is Southern European, and 34.9% of which is “nonspecific European.” The European piece of my ancestry isn’t that surprising (especially considering that I have two European-born grandparents) but the more specific breakdown of the ancestry is kind of interesting, because even though my dad’s mom is from Abruzzo, Italy, only 2.5% of my genes are Italian. I guess this means that my Italian grandmother wasn’t purely ethnically Italian, which makes sense given Italy’s history and demographics. Guess I can stop taking credit for all of those Roman aqueducts now.

4. I’m 2.9% Neanderthal. And yes, that’s on the high end (80th percentile, to be exact). My husband is gleeful about the fact that I am, as he puts it, “2.9% beast,” but I find it a bit unsettling. According to 23andMe, “traces of [Neanderthal] DNA — between 1 percent and 4 percent — are found in all modern humans outside of Africa.” At least I’m not 4% Neanderthal. I told my husband that, given my ethnic background and now this Neanderthal business, I could have fared MUCH worse in the body hair department. And I have no noticeable brow ridge!

So, this has all been very interesting for me. Have you done DNA testing or genetic mapping? Did you find out anything cool?

 

Soundtrack to my life, part 1: angst

Like any narcissist, I often dream about the movie that will inevitably be made of my life. I don’t focus on which actor would play me (although, let’s be real, Jamie Lynn Sigler could use the work), but I do tend to fantasize heavily about the soundtrack. When I think about the soundtrack to my life, I don’t try to connect songs to particular scenes that I’ve lived (since most of the foundational moments of my life were not, as it turns out, set to music), but I match specific songs to moods that I’ve experienced or general feelings that I’ve had. So, for example, my happy, jaunty walking song will always and forever be Belle and Sebastian’s “There’s Too Much Love.” Listen to this song and try NOT to walk jauntily. It’s impossible.

Since there are so many songs that I love and that figure prominently into any dramatic rendering of my emotional life, it won’t do to try to sum them all up in one post. So let’s just start with the most fun: the angsty songs — you know, the songs you listen to when you just want a good wallow. Sometimes I listen to angsty songs when I’m in a good mood, just to feel superior (it’s like Schadenfreude). So, here, in no particular order, are ten (plus a couple of extras) essential, angsty, life soundtrack songs.

1. My go-to, moody, blissfully sad, self-indulgently angsty song: “Goodnight L.A.” by Counting Crows. Counting Crows is one of my all-time favorite bands. They’re up there with The Beatles. They’re geniuses, and I won’t hear anyone say a word against them. My cousin Catie and I actually joined the Counting Crows fan club as high schoolers and we used to blast August and Everything After and This Desert Life (and yes, Recovering The Satellites, although it’s not their best work, in my humble opinion) every time we were together. Adam Duritz’s beautiful, ragged voice is present throughout a large chunk of the soundtrack to my teenage years. “Goodnight L.A.,” however, is off of the album Hard Candy, which came out in 2002, and which I listened to heavily during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. Hard Candy, for me, in some ways signaled the beginning of the end for Counting Crows. It included their awful, plasticene cover of “Big Yellow Taxi” (ugh), and although a lot of the songs on the album were good, only a few moved me. “Goodnight L.A.,” though, is perfect. The melody is gorgeous and the lyrics are pure, old-school, poetic Adam Duritz (“So I put my head on the ground, and the sky is a wheel” kills me every time). Whenever I’m feeling like I want to wallow in loneliness or angst without going full Elliott Smith, I put on this song. It’s wonderful.

Counting Crows: angst kings

Counting Crows: angst kings

2. My other go-to angsty song: [Insert any Sarah McLachlan song here]. Oh, Sarah: I love you. So much. Here’s the thing: Sarah McLachlan has the voice of a Canadian angel, and her lyrics are so lovely and heartfelt. If I had to pick one song out of her catalog to be my go-to angst song, I’d probably have to go with “Elsewhere.” It’s slightly churchy in its arrangement and harmonization, the lyrics are great (yet inscrutable), and it’s angsty while still being soothing. You could totally take a nap to this song. A sad nap.

3. My angsty-with-banjos song: “Maybe,” by Allison Krauss. I seem to recall listening to a lot of sad country songs when I was a freshman in college, when EVERY moment in my life held what felt like great emotional import, and I was surrounded by people from Texas: so, a perfect storm of banjo angst. Allison Krauss and her sad, sad voice (lady always sounds like she’s about to burst into tears) was delicious during these moments.

4. My angsty-in-love-in-my-head song: This song hasn’t really applied to my life since I was in college, but I used to listen to Guster’s “Either Way” and just feel like it was speaking to me, about my actual life, even though I never had a real boyfriend until I was out of college and spent most of college pining after people who did not return the feeling. I was basically Noel from Felicity. Anyway, from its first notes, “Either Way” just captures the feeling of delicious misery of having one’s heart stomped upon as a young, impressionable person. It’s hard not to listen to this song, with its sad violins and sad piano, and not immediately picture my freshman year dorm room and its chili lights hanging over the bunk bed. I love it! (Runner up: “Only In Dreams,” by Weezer. Oof.)

5. My so-depressing-you-can’t-even-take-it-seriously song: “Talk Show Host,” by Radiohead. It’s Radiohead. Enough said. (Runner up: “Karma Police.”)

6. My slightly drunk, angsty song: “Wildflowers,” by Ryan Adams. I say “slightly drunk” to be generous to Mr. Adams, who once fell off a stage during a concert. I’ve seen Ryan Adams twice in concert, and he was visibly intoxicated both times, but do you think that stopped him from singing and playing the harmonica, the guitar, and the piano, sometimes all at once? Hell, no. The man’s a dynamo (and I think he’s been clean and sober for quite a while now — hat-tip to the sobering presence of Mandy Moore).

7. My late-nights-working-at-the-law-firm sad song: “The Sword and the Pen,” by Regina Spektor. Used to play this one a lot past midnight while sitting in front of a glowing computer screen.

8. My favorite angsty cover song: Bon Iver’s cover of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Holy crap. Shivers.

9. My saudade brasileira song: “É Isso Aí,” by Ana Carolina, with Seu Jorge. This is set to the same tune as Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter,” which is pretty angsty in its own right, but there’s something about the acoustic guitar and Ana Carolina’s husky voice that makes this version even better. Brazilians are known for being happy and upbeat, but they’re also experts at saudade, the feeling of longing or nostalgia for the past, or for a place or person far away. This song pretty much nails saudade.

10. My obligatory Ben Folds angst song: “We’re Still Fighting It.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a Ben Folds song on an angsty music list. The guy’s like a teenage girl trapped in an adult male body. I adore his music, and a lot of his songs capture specific life moments. “We’re Still Fighting It” is about growing up, and a relationship between a parent and child. It’s sad, but ultimately hopeful. And it still gives me chills when I listen to it.

So! Everyone feeling nice and angsty now? What are your favorite sad, wallowy songs? I’m sure I’m missing some gems here, but I wanted to keep the list relatively short so as not to overwhelm. Happy/angsty listening!