My Decade

The New York Times posted a collection of reader's photograph's from the past ten years and I spent some time scrolling through them this morning. It occurred to me that this has been my decade, my coming of age period, the one whose events created my adult personality.

At the start of this decade, I didn't have a cell phone. AIM Instant Messenger was just taking off. I didn't know what "high speed" internet, or blogs or wikis were. Even after I got a cell phone, it was for talking to people, not texting them.

Pittsburgh has gotten a lot shinier since then...I remember when the Waterfront shopping center was being built. M lived on Beechwood Boulevard, overlooking that lot, which was just an ugly Brownfield for a long time. One day, blindingly bright lights appeared as the movie theater and Giant Eagle opened. The Nabisco factory still filled the East End with the warm and inviting smell of cookies baking several times a week. All the old high rise projects are gone from that neighborhood and the factory is being renovated into luxury condos and high end retail. As the gentrification creeps through East Liberty and Garfield, I wonder where all the people are going who can't afford to stay in luxury condos, but I also hope that it creeps down Penn Avenue towards my little piece of the city.

In the year 2000, I, along with most Americans, could never have imagined the 9/11 attacks, but war has been the background buzz for nearly the entire decade. In the year 2000, you could still go and hang out past the security gates at the airport. Al Qaeda had been around for a while, probably at least 10 years, but none of us knew who they were.

M and I traveled around the country twice, driving well over 10,000 miles each time. We spent six months living in the woods as we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. We downed malaria pills and went to Africa. Thousands of pictures and postcards and blog entries document these adventures. We were forever changed by each person we met along the way.

2009 was largely spent preparing for Laurel. Pregnancy overshadowed practically everything else from my 30th birthday party to the Rachel Carson Challenge. She will be 8 weeks old tomorrow, the first day of the new year. I imagine that Laurel herself will be a prominent fixture in the coming decade. It will be her milestones that mark the passage of time.

Happy New Year, readers.


There's an ap for that...

There's a neat article on CNN.com today about new methods for letting your local officials know about problems like potholes and late buses.

We've had 311 for a while in the 'Burgh, and I have used it several times. Although I can't say that my phone calls directly resulted in a problem being fixed, at least I did speak to an actual person every time. 311, in case you haven't heard of it, is the number you call to report non-criminal problems. Pittsburgh was also recently featured for the iBurgh app which allows users to take photos of problems and send them to the mayor's office, notable because it was the first city to develop something like this. (The CNN article neglected to mention Pittsburgh as a forerunner on this issue, shame on them.)

But does making complaining easier really help with anything?

According to the CNN article: "Instead of people saying, 'Well, it's the government's job to fix that' ... people are taking ownership and saying, 'Hey, wait a minute. Government is us. We are government. So let's take a responsibility and start changing things ourselves.' "

I disagree...I think this basically just causes a bunch of people running around thinking that they HAVE done something about a problem. Reporting it is truly only the first step.



I wore yoga pants to the grocery store. And slip on shoes. And even if I didn't have a small child strapped to my chest, you would have been able to tell from my casual, milk stained attire and messy ponytail that I was somebody's mom. It's hard to remember to dress up when a) nothing you own fits you yet and b) the person you spend the most time with is usually wearing pajamas. Now that I have been cleared to exercise, I plan to make an attempt to get back into my regular clothes.

I like being a mom. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I wake up from a sound sleep to hear Laurel fussing, and I think, "How did this baby get into my house?" But she is really cuddly and smiles a lot now. She has even added some coo-ing to her grunts. (She's a very loud baby...she grunts and breaths loudly and makes a racket, even when she's sound asleep.)

She has sort of figured out how to get her fingers into her mouth to suck on them, but seems confused about whose fingers they are. She will be 7 weeks old on Christmas Day. In a couple of weeks, we'll go for her two month check up and we can find out how much she's grown. I am really curious about this because she seems like a really long baby. The 0-3 month sleepers are getting kind of short for her already, and when she nurses her legs hang way off to the side.


So, I'm Cured....

Better. Healed. Or whatever you call it when you have recovered from a cesarean childbirth. I had my 6 week post-partum check up, and everything checks out. I am clear to resume normal activities, like lifting laundry baskets (darn) and exercising (very much needed).

The midwife asked me how many more children I was planning on having. Umm. Are you kidding me? I changed 20 diapers today alone. I think I'll wait a minute or two before adding to the chaos.

It was very strange to be back at Magee. I spent a lot of time there in the last few months, between weekly prenatal appointments at the end of the third trimester and the five days I stayed there as a patient. I realize in retrospect that the pain medication I took religiously in the first two weeks really did cast a foggy shadow over me. I mistook it for sleep deprivation, but Laurel actually slept more then, and I feel much more clear now.

I've been doing a lot of "processing" of my birth experience, lately, trying to figure out what went wrong, and wondering if I ever want to do it again. The biggest problem I had at the end was feeling rushed...there was such a strong pressure to start labor before 42 weeks. I wonder what would have happened if I had not had my membrane "swept" and waited another few days until the scheduled induction. Maybe she would have moved into a better position. Maybe I could have avoided back labor. Maybe I could have just gotten a few more good nights sleep. Prenatal yoga was both a blessing and a curse. I definitely had the stamina and physical preparation to do the movements needed to handle pain during labor. I could do all of the squatting and kneeling and swaying I needed to. But it also set me up to expect to feel empowered by the whole experience. Instead I felt like my body had failed me. And like I'd been run over by a truck.

Once I failed at accomplishing an empowering, vaginal birth, I temporarily lost all of my mothering instincts. I felt pulled in a million directions by the nurses and doctors and lactation consultants, who all had differing opinions about breastfeeding and pacifiers and bottles and pumping and sleep schedules. I read too many books and websites in the first couple of weeks, desperate to find the right way to do this.

Luckily, our very laid-back pediatrician and a couple of good friends helped to remind me to follow my instincts. Feed her when she's hungry. Don't let her sit in a dirty diaper. Cuddle. Smile. Enjoy it. When I am chill, Laurel is chill, and we all have a good time.

Instead of saying "cured", I should probably say "forever altered". I'm somebody's mother. And however I got to be this way, is the way it is. It just is. No point in dwelling on it.


Babies Everywhere!

One of the things I was most worried about during my pregnancy was that I didn't really know anybody with young children. We were not baby-making people, we were going-out people. Last minute weekend getaway to New Orleans people. There was going to be a major shift in my social calendar, and I knew play dates would replace happy hour. But play dates with who???

But then I met Sarah at my prenatal yoga. We ended up registering for a private childbirth class together, and then, because we both live near Frick Park, we decided to meet up for some walks to get to know each other a little bit. I knew that we would be friends when, on the day of our first walk, it was pouring down rain, and we both still showed up and happily walked in the rain for over an hour. There were many more walks in Frick Park, and Sarah gave birth just one day before me in the same hospital.

Sarah knew Prachi and Prachi knew Lindsay, and now there are four mommas and four babies that meet up every week. We don't do much out of the ordinary...the babies are too little to even really be aware of each other (though we line them up on the couch every week to see if they'll interact). So we just feed them and change diapers and bounce them and rock them...everything we do all the time on our own. But there's something very relaxing about doing all of these ordinary things while chatting and drinking tea.


First Date

M and I went out on a date last night. My parents came over to watch Laurel.

We went to see Fantastic Mr. Fox. I guess all the cool kids are turning children's books into feature films these days. I like this trend. This was a very typical Wes Anderson movie, with the usual cast and scoring. It says it's a "family film" but I've always thought Roald Dahl books were better suited to mature audiences. Anyway, go see it.

It was pretty short, so we even had time to get a Boca burger at Red Robin after. I distinctly remember the last time I was at Red Robin because I was extremely pregnant and drank about four glasses of that freckled strawberry lemonade and had to go to the bathroom every five minutes. Being out without her reminded me of what it was like to not have a baby. We tried to do some shopping with her yesterday, and were marginally successful, but of course it was much more time consuming and we did some acrobatic diaper changing and nursing in the car, in between dashing into stores.

There's a certain mental fogginess that I don't notice when I am at home with the baby, but becomes evident as soon as I go out into the world and have to interact with people who are not doing the eat-poop-sleep routine over and over again all day.

A big snow storm has enveloped the entire East Coast, so our trip to visit the great-grandparents in Saint Marys is probably going to be delayed. Ordinarily M and I would have looked at the snow and merrily set out anyway, even knowing the roads were not clear. It may have taken us 6 hours to do the 2 hour trip, and we would have been fine with that. It would have been an adventure. How things change....


Parenting 101

Laurel was freed from my womb six weeks ago. Happy 6 Week Birthday, Puddin'! So, it's also my six week anniversary of being a parent. A parent. I'm somebody's mother! I can say this phrase, "My daughter..."

Mark is back to work, so Laurel and I spend a fair amount of time alone, staring at each other and thinking, "are we doing this right?" - Laurel being an inexperienced human, and me being an inexperienced mom. Here are my top ten lessons learned so far.

1. Receiving blankets make the best burp rags. They are big enough to stay put over your shoulder, and we have a lot of them. And there's a lot of spit up.
2. Cloth diapers are no more trouble than disposable ones. Really. And you never run out.
3. It is far better to make an honest effort at getting the poop off your kid's butt at 2am, than to turn on the lights and confirm that you have done that. Dimming the lights from 8pm to 6am is my new strategy for retraining my little night owl.
4. Swaddling and white noise have saved my sanity.
5. I have given up reading parenting books as they only lead to confusion and feelings of inadequacy.
6. I learned to type one-handed.
7. Laurel will let me know what she wants, when she wants it. I only need to listen (and toss out the window any aspirations for productivity in other areas of my life).
8. I know they say you should take time for yourself when you have a spare minute, but sometimes it really is better to just suck it up and do the dishes instead. Because the next time you need the breast pump parts at 4 am and they are buried under every dirty dish in the house, you will regret taking that 10 minute nap.
9. Go out somewhere, even if it's just to the grocery store or Walgreen's. It forces me to get dressed, and the fresh air is good for us.
10. Laurel's smiles make me forget everything hard about this. Every. Single. Time.


Laurel Can Sleep in so Many Different Ways

And yet, she finds the hours between 1 am and 4 am to be so unsuitable for sleeping.

Here she is lounging in her crib (during the day of course). Can I get you a drink, Laurel? How about an extra beach towel?

Here she is swaddled up in the "Miracle Blanket". This was not all that effective last night, since all she wanted to do was cuddle up next to me and nurse. All. Night. Long. I think she may be hitting another growth spurt, so I am the 24 hour Snack Bar. Maybe she'll finally get some baby fat on her little legs as a result of all this eating.


Laurel Watching Her Monkey Mobile


Laurel at 5 Weeks

I say to Laurel, "Remember when you were little and you slept all day curled up in a little ball? Remember when the only time you were awake was when you were eating, and even then you would fall asleep and I would have to tickle your cheek to make you finish." We read our board books together, and she stares at her mobile and smiles and sleeps stretched out, with her arms up above her bed, as if she were lounging on a warm, Caribbean beach. Days and nights are sorting themselves out. She loves taking a bath. All in all, I would say she gets better every day.


Park Place Holiday Party

One of the many great things about my neighborhood is the annual Holiday potluck. The residents of Park Place are amazing cooks, and there was no shortage of vegetarian and vegan food. Laurel came with us to meet the neighbors, and she was pretty well-behaved the whole time. Mostly, she just slept in the wrap with Mark! This picture shows them in front of the food donation table - yes, Park Place is very civic minded, and we were all instructed to bring donations for the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.


I Really Need to Start Carrying a Camera

So many precious moments to capture...

But seriously, I wish I had taken some photos of our "playdate" today at Sarah's house. By now, Laurel and Kai are old friends, although they refuse to make eye contact, or really interact in any way other than crying at the same time. Today another baby and mom came over so there were three babies and three moms. We just did the usual "feed, burp, rock, sleep, diaper routine", but somehow it was more fun at Sarah's house, with snacks set out, and it was really cute to see the three babies stretched out on the couch, in various stages of slumber. Prachi's baby is the biggest at 10 pounds, Laurel is weighing in around 8, but she's super long, so she looks bigger, and Kai is now over 7 pounds. Laurel had some alert moments during the afternoon and impressed the other ladies with her charming ability to smile. We walked over there through the park, and Laurel tried out her new hat (thanks, Leah!) and I discovered that she stops crying immediately upon going out in the cold air.

I'm going to make it a point to put the camera in the diaper bag, so I can snap a few pictures next time we're doing something interesting. Or even not interesting, because let's face it, newborns are super cute even when doing hardly anything at all.


Am I Screwing Up Because I Don't Have a Baby Book Started, and Other Musings on Parental Life

Although, I guess this blog is sort of an electronic baby book...I don't have a changing table either, and that is proving to be a bit inconvenient. I had no clue I would be changing 20 diapers a day and that my child would take great delight in peeing and pooing as soon as her diaper was removed.

Laurel has the Colic. Or at least something that caused her to cry fitfully for many hours last night. Up to this point, running through the checklist (diaper, gas, milk, tired, just-want-to-be-held) has been pretty effective in keeping her cries to a minimum. Last night, she could not be consoled, which is why I found myself standing in the hallway, running the hair dryer at 1:30 AM while M held a swaddled Laurel, bouncing and swinging her.

It worked, and two desperately tired new parents crawled into bed a short while later. We were following the hints from The Happiest Baby on the Block. According to Harvey Karp, babies are born too soon. The first few months is the "fourth trimester" in which they pine for the warm ambiance of the womb. The womb is a warm, cozy place where baby is rocked back and forth gently all day and hears a constant, very loud swishing sound of circulating blood. To have a non-crying newborn, you replicate these sensory experiences.

Tonight, we rigged up the sound machine and she's currently sleeping very peacefully listening to the "wind" setting. It reminds me of a night we spent on the A.T. in New Hampshire after a very hard day of hiking. Rocky trail and wet conditions made it slow going that day and we barely did 8 miles. We spent the night in a shelter next to a rushing creek with two Canadians. We played cribbage and I rested my knee, which I had smashed while crawling over a boulder that day. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and the wind was blowing very hard. I thought, "New Hampshire is the wildest place I have ever been." But I felt warm and snug inside the shelter, and only a little bit afraid.

What is Laurel thinking tonight, as she drifts in and out of baby sleep? Does she miss the uterus? Does she remember it? How does my voice sound compared to what it did when she was inside? What is it like to think without words? Ah, the mysteries of a newborn...


A Little Laurel Love For You


Laurel at Four Weeks

Rosie the Cat looks on as Laurel enjoys some time in her bouncy chair. We have yet to take advantage of the "calming vibrations" setting of this chair, although I think Laurel would enjoy it. The chair, like many pieces of baby equipment, requires a D battery, and who keeps those around?

At four weeks, Laurel is starting to stay awake a little more. Up to this point, she had only two settings: Deeply Content and I need something RIGHT NOW! Now, she has an interim setting, which I call, I don't mind chilling here while my mom goes to the bathroom.

She has started smiling. She loves to look at her monkey mobile. She continues to need a lot of snuggling. She'll sleep a good 4 hours at a stretch at night. She does this thing where she pees after you take off her diaper, and then looks real happy about it. For a girl, she has amazing range for her pee.

I think because I am with her literally every moment of every day, I haven't noticed how much she's changing. When I think about her being here for four weeks, it doesn't seem real. (Maybe because I haven't slept in four weeks.) But, she's no longer curled up in a fetal position all the time. Her face looks fuller. I think she has more hair. And as she sits there, quietly smiling at me from her little chair while I type this, I think she's about to get a lot more fun.


How To Give a Baby a Manicure

First, make sure Baby is asleep. Otherwise, she will be too wiggly. This can be most easily accomplished by feeding Baby, in other words, get her "milk drunk". Next, spend some time giggling over Baby's ridiculously satisfied expression. Ease her into position so that you can grab her fingers one at a time. File her nails carefully...they are very, very tiny and you don't want to take the skin off with the nail! Admire your handiwork the next time you nurse her and she does not scratch you with razor sharp talons! Repeat frequently...baby parts grow fast.


Happy Thanksgiving

We have a lot to be thankful for this holiday. Laurel for one of course, but also a fast recovery for me, and a house filled with delicious food, and friends and family who come to visit. We're keeping things low-key for the meal today...Jack is over to feast vegetarian-style with us. I cannot wait to eat the mushroom loaf and onion gravy, greens, beet bruschetta, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Happy Thanksgiving!


Life With Babe

What is life like these days at the Frey house? Well, we run on a 24 hour clock, for one. There is not so much "night" and "day" as "when Laurel is awake" and "when Laurel is asleep". Thanks to the help from friends and family, we continue to eat well. One thing about our offspring is that she really digs personal attention...she wants to be held all the time. Luckily, we can strap her on to one of us in the wrap carriers and go about our business. There are lots and lots of diapers. She has an uncanny ability to wait until we have changed her to let loose again. Unfortunately, she is a bit small to fit in the cloth diapers we bought her, so we are spending fortunes on disposables for right now. Hopefully in the next week or two, she will plump up a bit and I can get her in the cloth. The weather has been wonderful, so we've been able to go out on some short walks. I am getting better every day, and hopefully will be able to drive again very soon. All in all, life seems very simple...I do nothing but eat, sleep, feed and change the baby and take a shower every day. The simplicity of it is kind of comforting. We're off to see the pediatrician this afternoon for another weight check, so cross your fingers that she's still gaining!


Look, ma...no hands!

This is how Aunt Meg rocks the Moby Wrap with Laurel. I am really looking forward to being able to use this, once my abdomen is healed up a little more. Laurel loves hanging out in this wrap. It's perfect for taking her out and about, especially in cooler weather because she stays nice and toasty.

M and L

M and L caught a quick nap on the couch this afternoon. Laurel really loves to be strapped to M's chest in the Moby wrap. We bundled her up and took her out in her first Pittsburgh rainstorm, and first trip to the Co-op. When we got back with the groceries, M cooked up a full English breakfast for us, and then everybody was content to lie down and relax for a while. It's very quiet in my house right now.


What do we do all day?

And where do the days go? Laurel is a night owl. She tends to be pretty active until 2 or 3 in the morning, and then will sleep for long stretches until 10 or 11. This makes the days blur into each other and overlap. Breakfast is served late. I wear pajamas all day unless we have to go somewhere. We sit in the big chair in her room and nurse and nap and nap and nurse. I put on Pandora radio. Laurel likes M. Ward and Bon Iver. She sleeps best when cradled in my arms, or tucked in a swaddle, stretched out next to me. We call her the Caterpillar when she is wrapped up like that. When she is ready to start waking up, she flexes her legs and wiggles her way out of the swaddle. Last night, she hardly cried, just made little cooing noises that I somehow anticipated and woke up to hear before she made them. She stared at me in the dim light at 5 am with enormous blue eyes, lined with long lashes that are most definitely from M. Her eyes flicker back and forth when she falls asleep and little gas bubble smiles appear at her lips. She fusses and squrims and begs to nurse continuously in the late afternoon, and through the prime time television line up. M carries her in a wrap, pacing through the house. Eventually, she falls asleep and I seize the opportunity to take a hot shower.

I feel like I can manage anything if I get a hot shower every day.

And that's it. The day starts over. She is one day older. One ounce fatter. I love her ten times more.


A Great Day for a Walk

We enjoyed some beautiful weather in Pittsburgh today, and it was plenty warm to take Laurel out for a walk. M wrapped her up in the carrier and took her out in the sunshine. I made it a full three blocks down the street and back.

Laurel Saves Us from the Jehovah Witnesses

Only a week old, and she has already proven her usefulness...

This all starts with a minor plumbing disaster last week, which required M to recaulk the shower this morning. Caulking involves a fair amount of toxic fumes, so Laurel and I were exiled from the second floor for a while this morning. The only thing wrong with the first floor is that there is no bathroom and none of her supplies are down here. And since she poops herself with great regularity, I had to change her on the couch. So anyway, we were chilling downstairs eating and pooping and changing diapers and napping.

She was sleeping peacefully on my lap when there was an, err, overflow of sorts. So I stripped her down and was attempting to clean her up, when it occurred to me this was a perfect time for her bath, which we were planning to do later. So M dragged down the bathing supplies while I wrapped her in the cloth diaper that I was using as a changing pad. Yes, it was covered in poo, but so was she at this point.

And then she peed on me.

So, I'm standing there, covered in pee and poo with a naked baby, who has a satisfied grin on her face. M and I are looking a bit haggard since we were not able to shower on account of the whole caulking thing.

That's when the doorbell rang. Saturday wouldn't be Saturday without a visit from the Jehovah Witnesses. They love coming to our house because we always answer the door. They launched into their usual greeting, when they caught sight of me and the naked baby and the pee and the poo. For the first time ever, they made a quick exit.

We gave Laurel a high five for saving us from the Jesus pitch. And then we gave her a bath.

Now I have a sweet smelling baby laying on my lap asleep.

And she just pooped again.


What's in a Name?

M and I didn't spend a lot of time discussing baby names. We never consulted a book, or made a list. We were basically thinking botanical and traditional. Originally, we called our unborn child Rosemary. However, as you know, our cat is named Rosie. So this just seemed weird.

Mountain Laurel is the state flower of Pennsylvania. It grows in abundance in the mountainous areas all along the Appalachian Trail. We saw tons of it in the spring time in Virginia when we were hiking the AT. It looks similar to a rhododendron (another of my favorite flowers, but this was immediately rejected as a name), but with smaller leaves and more delicate clusters of flowers.

There are many different varieties of laurel across the globe. My Aunt Mary was recently in Spain, and she sent me this picture and wrote:

The tree is called (in French) un laurier rose. They grow all around the Mediterranean, some in pink, some in white. I took this photo in the gardens of the Alcazar in Cordoba on October 10th.
You probably know that the laurel's branches were made into wreathes and used to crown heroes in Ancient Greece and Rome. That's where our title "Poet Laureate" came from. The History of the Laurel Wreath Ovid told the story of Daphne and Apollo, in which Daphne is changed into a beautiful laurel tree. Love from Mary

So we call her Laurel in honor of the mountains we love.

Norine, of course, is the name of my grandmother, who died in February, just as Laurel's tiny heart began to beat. I threw up on the way to the funeral, and we were late, which was probably a good thing, because it might have been awkward to refuse the whiskey toast that happened right before we got there. I'm sorry that she did not have a chance to meet her great-granddaughter, but my grandmother was one person who never objected to me choosing adventure over motherhood in my twenties.

Laurel Norine has some other names. We called her Puddin' during my pregnancy, and still do. And she's also earned the nickname Caterpillar for the way she wriggles out of her swaddling blanket.


Some new pics of Laurel

We'll be adding new pics of Laurel will be added to Flickr with the tag laurelnfrey - if you've got shots of her feel free to do the same. You can view all of them anytime by visiting http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=laurelnfrey&w=all.


Laurel's Birth Adventure

Here's the story of Laurel's entrance into the world.

As you know, we have been eagerly anticipating the birth of our daughter for months now. The nursery was painted, hospital bags packed, and my due date came and went. But no labor. We had to schedule an induction at my 41 week appointment, and were sent on our way to try some of the non-medical tricks, including, but not limited too, a fancy night out on the town, lots and lots of walking, eating eggplant, eating spicy food, walking up stairs, and duck walking. We were hoping to avoid medical induction, but the general rule of thumb is not to let a pregnancy progress past 42 weeks, for the safety of the baby. It was getting down to the wire at 41 weeks and 3 days, when I started experiencing some contractions. Hooray!

The First Part
We spent Tuesday evening at home, trying to relax through contractions. I wasn't able to sleep very much, and by 3:00 am, they were under 5 minutes apart, so off to the hospital we went to get checked. Unfortunately, I had not dilated much, and the contractions started waning a bit, so back home we went. They started to pick up again the next night (naturally, just as I was getting ready to go to sleep), and carried on through the night, so once again we went into the hospital very early in the morning to be checked. This time the contractions were more regular, and I was dilated enough to stay, so we checked into the labor and delivery rooms. Time passed very strangely on Thursday. M put on some music and we walked and hummed and swayed and massaged and got in the hot shower and all that other good labor management stuff. My contractions got more regular and more intense throughout the day and we had high hopes to have a baby by supper time. However, by the evening, I had really significant back pain and was not making any progress with my dilation. This can be a sign that the baby is in a bad position. We did some yoga to try to get her to roll over. Through all of this, M was the most amazing labor coach, and I felt really prepared for this stage of it. I was imagining meeting my daughter in a few hours and that thought was very comforting. It had been a long day, and we both started to doze off for a minute or two in between every contraction.

The Complicated Part

Then things started to get a little complicated, and a bit less "natural."

I hadn't slept properly in two days, so I was starting to get a little tired and a little dehydrated. My contractions were losing intensity and I still was not dilating any more. Nobody could figure out why. They could feel the babies head, the contractions had been strong enough. The midwife suggested some IV fluids, and starting on some pitocin to get things moving along. I felt better right away and was still able to move around the room enough to be comfortable. And then the contractions picked up. Good news, we thought! It's working. They very slowly continued to increase the pitocin drip. I started to feel a lot of pressure and the urge to push, so we paused for a minute to check my dilation and it Still Hadn't Moved. At All.

The Scary Part

How demoralizing. I had been laboring, unmedicated for several days and in pretty hard back labor since early that morning. M might remember the next part a little better, but I think what happened is that I had a very, very strong contraction that did not stop - an overreaction to the pitocin. They had to give me medicine to counteract the pitocin. The baby's heart showed something called a "deceleration", which can indicate distress. Suddenly our quiet birthing room was filled with people. They put an oxygen mask on me. We decided to try an epidural and take a rest for a little while. Originally I was not wild about the idea of somebody poking a needle in my spine, but at that moment it seemed like a very good plan. Plus, I already had an internal catheter monitoring my contractions, and an IV, so it wasn't like I was going to be walking around to manage my pain anymore.


The epidural turned out to be a good idea, although it dropped my blood pressure, which necessitated even more medicine. But it did give us a chance to rest. The midwife came back and we discussed our options...try more pitocin and hope that the epidural would encourage dilation, or do a cesarean. Because I had reacted strongly to a small amount of pitocin before, there was concern that it would stress the baby and lead to an emergency cesarean. We called in the obstetrician that consults with my midwives to hear her opinion. During our conversation, the baby experienced another heart deceleration in response to my contraction, and after checking my cervix once again, and finding no progress, we decided to deliver her via cesarean then.

I have never had surgery, never even been in the hospital before, so being a patient was a novel experience. Once we decided on the cesarean, things moved pretty fast. They changed my epidural to a spinal block, which made my legs feel like giant, lead-filled balloons. I had to have a catheter put in my bladder and wear an oxygen mask. M was given some surgical scrubs to wear. It was a "hurry up and wait" situation, since as soon as we were ready, there was some other emergency and the whole team ran off for a bit. I had to lay on my side to keep good oxygen flowing to the baby while we waited.

The Birth

Finally we were wheeled into the operating room, which was extremely well-lit and filled with people and machines. Everyone from the surgeons to the anesthesiologist was very good about explaining what they were doing. The midwife on call that night was awesome. She stayed with us through the entire thing, and took Laurel's first pictures so that M could stay with me and hold my hand. I was awake for the birth, with M sitting next to my head. As soon as they pulled Laurel out, we heard some reassuring cries. M was allowed to be with her as soon as the NICU team cleared her. After they weighed her, M brought her over to me. Then he took care of her while they closed me up.


It's on odd, odd feeling to have people tugging and pulling and slicing up your insides, all of which you can feel, but without the pain. Having an operation was a scary part of this birth that I didn't expect. The moments right after our daughter's birth were dizzy, nauseous, and uncomfortable for me. All I wanted to do was fall asleep, but I threw up instead. It felt like it took forever, but the whole thing lasted under an hour. We were wheeled back to the labor and recovery room where we had a chance to properly meet Laurel. They did another exam and attached a bunch of ID bracelets to her. Thankfully, she was doing great.


Everyone who told us how amazing having a child is was absolutely right. I think M would agree that Laurel is the best thing that ever happened to us. But she certainly didn't enter the world the way we expected. When they pulled her out, we confirmed that the problem was with umbilical cord compression - it was wrapped once around her neck and again around her shoulder, keeping her from descending properly into the birth canal. She was also facing the wrong way to enter the birth canal, so while they could feel her head during my exams, it was the wrong part. It turned out to be a very good decision to do the cesarean before it was a true emergency for Laurel.

Having had a complication-free pregnancy, I totally expected to write a different kind of birth story. But this is the story of Laurel's entrance into the world, and I think it taught me the first of many parenthood lessons. Your kids will pull all kinds of tricks you weren't expecting, and that you have to make all kinds of difficult decisions to protect them.


Happy Birthday, Laurel

Welcome into the world Laurel Norine Frey.

Born 3:51am on Friday, 6 November 2009. 7lb 8oz and 20 1/4".



Don't get excited...this is not a birth announcement.

But I know you are all on pins and needles waiting for one.

Just wanted to let you know that we are still waiting. We went for something called a "biophysical profile" today, which is an ultrasound to check on the baby's health. She scored an 8/8, which basically means she is doing just fine in there.

So, we'll leave her in there for a little while longer and wait for nature to take its course.

Come on, nature!!


Still Waiting

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.
Arnold H. Glasow

Another weekend come and gone and no baby news to report to you. It was a nice weekend anyway.


Doctor's Orders

We had our appointment with the midwives yesterday and they hooked me up to the fetal monitor and found that that the baby is doing just fine. Therefore, we continue to wait. The midwife recommended that I go for a long hike and climb some stairs, that we go out to a nice dinner, and have a glass of wine, and take a relaxing bath. So M whisked me away to the Strip District and we had a mini-vacation last night. You may know about our obsession with the beds at the Hampton Inn, so we stayed over night there. Before going to bed (really early, I might add), we went out to dinner at Lidia's - mainly because it was close, but the food there is actually really, really good.

We started with arugula salad and their seasonal squash special bruschetta, which was amazing. Mark ate their daily pasta trio special, and I had butternut squash ravioli in a butter sage sauce. We finished the meal off with an ice cream sampler which included plum sorbet, chocolate sorbet and this very interesting sweet potato gelati. I had my prescribed half-glass of red wine, and the whole meal was really enjoyable. Lidia's is a little fancy to be whipping out the camera for every course, we didn't take pictures.

In the morning, we did a little shopping in the strip district before heading home.

No contractions yet, but at least, as the midwives told us, if it doesn't induce labor, you've had a nice time.


I know you want to know...

...and thank you for not constantly hounding me about when the baby is coming.

I do not know the answer. It seems the women in my family may "cook" their babies a little longer. It will happen. Someday.

In the meantime, I'm watching some pretty ridiculous daytime tv (Ellen is my favorite, but we also have a channel that plays Rick Sebak specials from morning to night), playing the new Wii Fit game M just bought me, and taking lots of naps. My mom is also entertaining me. Today, we will go to the zoo to do some walking. I'm trying to keep up with my schoolwork, but my brain is a bit mushy right now.

My next midwife appointment is tomorrow. I'll keep you posted!


Harvard Beets

We got awesome vegetables from the market last week. Since we worked our way through all the greens, we started in on the roots. First, M roasted the carrots in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then he decided to tackle Harvard Beets. Usually we just roast our beets plain, but to make Harvard Beets, you have to slice and boil them. Then you make a sauce of beet juice, sugar, vinegar and a little bit of corn starch. After it thickens you mix the beets into the sauce. It's very delicious and messy. We also had beans on toast. If you are not familiar with this dish, it is a British "delicacy" for poor college students - sort of the equivalent of ramen or mac-n-cheese. Anyway, they do sell the real Heinz beans (look for the ones in the blue can) at the Giant Eagle, but we just used the Giant Eagle brand organic Maple and Onion baked beans, which are much cheaper and very good. I would say this meal is not lacking in the vitamin department, but at the same time, the sugar content might be a bit high to actually consider it healthy.

Now she REALLY loves her new bed....

Rosie's New Bed

Rosie's been a bit weird lately. She's not much for change. Between Pete and Meg and Lucy moving out, and then us moving our furniture around, and getting a lot of new stuff in the house, she doesn't know what's going on. Rosie is not one for cat "stuff". She only likes one kind of food (Purina), won't play with toys, and prefers to sit on our clothes or blankets. But M bought her a little cat bed over the weekend, and I just coaxed her into it. It's called the Cuddle Bed. She seems to like it just fine. Hopefully this will keep her out of the bassinet!


Rosie isn't sure she wants to know what's in there...


Wild Things and Sundaes and Other Delicious Things

We went to see the much hyped movie Where the Wild Things Are last night and splurged the extra five bucks to see it in the Imax theater. As movies based on childhood books go, I would consider this one of the more difficult ones to adapt. If you recall, the actual words in the book are rather limited, and the illustrations are what really carries the story forward. The problem with watching movies based on beloved books is that the director's imagery often doesn't line up with what you had pictured in your head while reading. However, once I got over this, I really enjoyed Spike Jonze's interpretation. You can view the trailer and read about the movie here. I thought Max Records, who plays the character Max, did a fantastic job in the role of a wild, misunderstood little boy. The one thing that threw me was the personification of the wild things on the island. At first, I didn't like that they had names and voices. But by the end of the movie, I really saw the wild things as a reflection of Max's own personality and I think it really worked. The soundtrack is fantastic, as well.

After the movie we made a quick stop at Giant Eagle and made the most amazing ice cream sundaes with vanilla ice cream, hot toasted almonds, chocolate sauce and coconut. And whipped cream, of course. This balanced out our dinner, which was equally delicious in a different way. We sauteed collards greens in olive oil and Liquid Smoke. Maybe because the collards are really fresh, maybe it had to do with M using our new food processor to cut them into delicate, grass-like ribbons, but they were really delicious. We stayed up way too late - M playing Zelda and me wandering aimlessly around the house - but we slept in this morning until 11. We'll probably never do that again. M, upon waking, declared Sunday his favorite day of the week and proceeded to whip up some whole wheat, crepe-like pancakes, stuffed with stewed apples and topped with powdered sugar. Only one word could describe them...amazing.


Plans for the Weekend (?)

Well, plans in the loosest sense of the word. Our calendar has been emptying out over the last few weeks. I gave away my tutoring clients, ended my office hours on campus, and have been reluctant to commit to any dinner parties and the such.

But here's what I'll be doing this weekend...

1. Resting
2. Walking
3. Going to the Apple Festival
4. Watching the Steelers game
5. Having a baby (?)

I went to yoga last night and spent the entire time sending a meditative message to the baby to come out. We had our midwife appointment today and the baby and I are still very healthy, and no intervention is recommended at this time. They can do something called "sweeping the membranes" next week, if I am starting to get desperate. I'm going to trust that this little one knows when to come out, and I'll just wait for now.

The midwife did guarantee me that I will be pregnant for no longer than 15 more days. Somewhat reassuring. I guess. But later on, not one, but TWO women I know told me that they had their babies on the actual due date. I'm sure my readers are getting tired of these updates that are not really updates. But I can think about nothing else. And I don't have much energy to do anything very interesting.

Anybody have some good ideas for jumpstarting labor?



It's been kind of fun to walk around town the last few days and answer the question of "When is your baby due?" with "Saturday!" and then watch their jaws drop. My due date is October 24, which makes me about 39 and a 1/2 weeks pregnant. I got a free milkshake out of it the other day. Also someone at Trader Joe's took my groceries to my car and then took the cart and put it away for me. The guy at the beer distributor kind of freaked out when I came in...even though I insisted the beer was not for me. It turned out he just didn't want me to carry the case into my car and sent his stock boy out to bring it. Yeah, I know, pregnant lady buying beer...it looks bad - but I want to make sure there is at least one icy cold beer available to me after I give birth, so it's important to remain stocked.

I came down with a cold on Friday and it's mostly run its course, but I made the decision to limit my exposure to my undergrad students for the duration of this pregnancy, so I'm working from home. This ended up being fortuitous for a number of reasons, but mainly because we have some Indian Summer going on here in Pittsburgh and I've been taking long walks in the park.

So what's up with the 40 week gestational period? As a Caucasian female, the average pregnancy is actually over 41 weeks, especially in my age bracket. The formula for calculating due dates was calculated way back in 1850, long before ultrasounds and other testing were available, and is also based on the assumption that a woman has a very regular 28 day menstrual cycle. But most birth professionals agree that "normal" pregnancy lasts between 2 weeks before the due date and 2 weeks after. That's a month long window!! So hard to wait.

I am determined to not get antsy about this. I am trying to think of this time period as a gift from my child to me...a chance to take it easy and rest and reflect on the first 30 years of my life, because something tells me everything changes once I officially become somebody's mom. And frankly it's kind of fun to have the pregnancy card to play...nobody's going to criticize you for eating ice cream or taking two naps in one day. If only it didn't come with heartburn and hip pain and edema!


Nothing to do but Cook

As per usual, we got an assortment of delicious greens from the market on Friday. Those that were attached to our turnips got chopped up into little ribbon strips in our new food processor and sauteed with oil and a dash of Liquid Smoke. M was dreaming up some kind of pie to use up the collards, and I ended up using a modified version of the empanada dough from Veganomicon and M sauteed the collards slightly and mixed them with cottage cheese and a little bit of grated asiago. Empanadas, of course, are delicious, but M was disappointed that I tainted his low-fat, vitamin rich with pie dough containing half a cup of butter.

We had leftover filling, so I decided to make it into a quiche tonight, which actually was pretty healthy. I borrowed this idea for a potato crusted quiche from Liz. Ample amounts of vegan pancakes, courtesy of the vegan pancake mix that Rita dropped off last weekend, made a good side dish.

Potato Crust Quiche

For the crust, shred potatoes and drain off the water. I used the food processor, so this took approximately 1 minute to do. Toss them with a tiny bit of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and press into a greased pie plate. Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes. Take it out when it starts to brown and set aside.

You could put whatever vegetable you want in the quiche, but we spread the leftover filling. I highly recommend using low-fat cottage cheese if you are watching your calories and still want something cheesy.

I beat up about 5 eggs and a half a cup of milk and poured this over top of the leftover filling. Cook it at 425 for about 25 minutes until it was firm. Let cool slightly before slicing.


The Long Awaited Monkeys

You may have noticed that M and I have been a bit obsessed with monkey themed baby nursery items lately. Originally, we weren't even sure we were going to make a room for the baby. M took on a rather extensive, 4 color, paint job to transform the room that formerly belonged to Pete and Meg, who now have their own lovely house. If you know me, you might think it's rather hilarious how I currently react to teeny tiny baby clothing and nursery decorations. I chalk it up to the hormones. But the monkeys really are cute.

There are a few final touch ups to do...we want to frame some prints, and anchor a bookshelf to the wall, and M has to hang the blinds. It's definitely the most decorated room in the house now, and we have to admit that we are a little jealous of this kid, and vow to do our bedroom next. Thank you to everybody for helping out with putting this nursery together.

Good Citizens

This is what some of the good citizens of my neighborhood were doing on Sunday morning...cleaning up the yard next door since the current property owners have been rather negligent about it (apparently, their company is in bankruptcy, and so they have had little motivation to respond to the many complaints I filed with the city). Hopefully, the legal issues can be sorted out soon and somebody will buy the place. But out of a bad situation, comes the good feeling that our neighbors are people we can count on. A crew of volunteers showed up this morning to help M remove trash and mow down the long grass and weeds. Yard work in 40 degree weather is no place for a pregnant lady, especially a pregnant lady with a rather bad cold, so I just supplied the coffee and donuts for the work crew and snuck out to take a quick picture of their fine work.


That time of year again...already?

Summer really seemed to fly by this year. Now we are in the midst of a rather dreary and damp autumn. I actually really like this weather...it suits Pittsburgh and all of us Yinzers with a propensity towards melancholy. We can stay in bed through an extra snooze button or two, and curse our soggy jeans cuffs after stepping in the inevitable puddles in the crosswalks. Gray weather like this is how Pittsburgh was meant to be experienced, with friends running in from their cars through a steady, cold drizzle to watch a football game. It's about regretting not mowing your lawn one last time while it was sunny and dry a few weeks ago, and peeling layers of colorful, wet leaves off your sidewalk.

M and I finally turned on our boiler this week, so now our house is cozy and warm, and it smells like apple pie. Not from the boiler of course. It smells like pie because I just baked one with some delicious "seconds" Honey Crisp apples that we got from the market yesterday. We also got about 10 small eggplants, collard greens, turnips and sweet potatoes. Not sure what to do with all those eggplants, but the price was too good to pass them up. The farmers are stripping the plants since frost is in the forecast, so there was lots of cheap produce to be had.

And of course, we're Waiting For the Baby. My due date is one week from today. I want to remind everybody that the due date is an approximation of gestational age. My mother went past her due dates by many, many days, so I am mentally prepared for a Halloween baby. Or a November baby. Gulp. I tried to go for a walk today to speed things along, but it started pouring down rain as soon as I had finished the intense struggle of tying my shoes.

Anyway, it will happen. Eventually. In the meantime, I will be right here, taking lots of naps and checking my Facebook page way too often.


38 Weeks


The Goods

Little babies seem to require a lot of equipment. Car seats and bedding and sleepers and diapers. And that's not even getting into the extras like pacifiers and bouncer chairs and monitors.

I finally got my diapers yesterday. Yes, we are crunchy enough to try cloth. Cloth diapers are much more complicated than I remember from my early babysitting years. You can get a lot of diapers than look and operate in much the same way as a disposable diaper. I became overwhelmed rather quickly at all of the choices...not to mention the cost - some of these diapers are like $20 each! In the end, I decided to go with unbleached, organic Indian prefolds and Mark's parents bought us a set that theoretically should last through potty training.

I liked the prefolds for a couple of reasons.

First of all, they are the most versatile in terms of fitting on babies of different sizes. Because they are a basic rectangle, you can fold them and pin them in all different ways to accommodate skinny or fat legs, tall or short babies, etc. You can double them up for night, and put different kinds of covers over them depending on how, er, productive your kid is.

Secondly, prefolds seem to be the easiest to wash and they dry pretty quickly. I know this is the step that turns most people off, but it really doesn't seem that bad to me. All you have to do is shake off the poo into the toilet and stick the diaper in a waterproof laundry bag. Every other day or so, I'll dump the laundry bag into the washer, run through a rinse cycle, wash them on hot and hang them up to dry.

And of course, third, there is the cost savings. Even when you consider the additional expense of gas and water for the extra laundry, we should save about $1,500 on diapering one baby from birth to potty training. My diaper set came with covers, which are not those sweaty vinyl pull on pants you may be thinking of...they have velcro and seem pretty adjustable and breathable and have nice gussets around the legs. The set also came with 30 flannel baby wipes and a bottle of solution you can spray on the baby's butt to clean her up. So we won't even have to buy disposable wipes.

Lastly, there is the environmental impact. Cloth diapering is not a no impact solution by any means...we should always consider the impact of our gray water usage with the laundry. But I like the idea of not throwing a lot of stuff into a landfill. It's kind of like taking your own bags to the grocery store...it's not something that in and of itself would change the world, but if we all pick and choose a couple of environmentally-friendly actions that we can personally live with, it adds up. This is something I can live with.

I do have a set of newborn sized disposable diapers for the first week or so, and I can imagine buying them occasionally for travel or when someone else is babysitting. Or maybe when we all get sick at once and the laundry gets backed up and we have no food and have to order takeout and nobody is getting any sleep. That's when I'll be glad we live next door to the Walgreen's!


Final Weeks

M and I went to our appointment with the midwife today. I'm at about 37 weeks right now. The due date is set at October 24, which would be 40 weeks. "Normal" pregnancy lasts anywhere from 37 to 42 weeks.

Each week when we go, they check my blood pressure, weight, and urine, and listen to the baby's heart rate and feel around my belly to see her position. The midwife practice is pretty laid back, so as long as we both continue to be healthy, we won't do anything but wait for labor to begin. So don't ask me how dilated or effaced I am...they don't check that.

I tell you all this because 1) prior to getting pregnant I had no idea how inexact this stuff is and 2) so everybody knows that we could have as long as a month to go. I know we're all excited, but there could be a lot of waiting.

I will say that the baby has started to drop (a good sign). I took a very long walk yesterday and slept pretty well, although not enough. (It never feels like enough.)

M is so close to finishing the nursery and it looks awesome! I hope to post some pictures this weekend.


Breaking Bread

I believe sharing meals solidifies relationships. We go out to eat for dates and with friends. We share meals with family at important holidays. When I was growing up, we ate dinner together every single night...when busy high school sports schedules interrupted dinner time, I remember my mom or dad would at least sit with me while I ate a late night meal after a soccer game. Today we had the pleasure of Sunday brunch with Jack, where he cooked his best ever omelet and delicious pancakes. We roasted tiny red and yellow potatoes that M carefully picked out of the bin at the Co-op yesterday. I sliced up a giant, perfectly ripe, Honey Crisp apple. When bellies are full and a half a cup of coffee remains, you can sit without even talking, and get to know a person better.

Later Sarah came over for tea, which lingered into dinner time, and M served up gratin turnips and peanut butter spinach and Brussels sprouts. She brought with her a baby gift, a black and gold blanket that, yes, you are seeing that correctly, pierogies stitched into the edging. How awesome is that?!! Later on in football season, maybe after winter starts to creep into western PA, bringing with it snow flakes and early dusk, we'll have a little baby to wrap up in that blanket while we watch the games. But tonight, it was just M and me, lounging on the couch and eating peanut butter cookies.

I can't sleep. I have this weird tingling middle finger and jumpy legs. Anxious. Restless. It reminds me of Sunday-evening-before-the-first-day-of-school feeling. The baby is squirming around a lot. Rosie the Cat is on the prowl, chasing the bugs that were chased inside by the cool temperatures. I think it's a full moon. I brought in all the plants from the front porch and now our dining room has a tropical feel to it. I would do a little homework, but Pitt's stupid Courseweb site won't load. I wonder how many months it will be before I sleep all night again. I hope I'm not keeping M awake. It's so late that there are hardly even any cars going by outside, and the morning trucks haven't started yet. Now that the weather has cooled off, the late night motorcycle rides and races seem to have ceased. It's very peaceful in our corner of the city.

It's kind of making me sleepy. Nothing like late-night bloggin' to cure an insomniac.


Fall Harvest Bounty

You can smell the earth on them. This is the beauty of early fall vegetables, dirt still clinging to them as they lay in pretty rows across the tables at the market. This smell reminds me of the richness of a wet forest, when kicking up a layer of leaves reveals an even stronger scent. M was delighted to find pumpkins at the Dilner's stand, and of course we stocked up on root vegetables and greens at the One Woman Farm. Not shown are the red peppers and Honey Crisp apples we also found. Rumor has it that pumpkin curry is in our future.



We look surprisingly happy considering the way the Steelers played on Sunday. Of course having family and pizza and babies and Oakmont Bakery cookies around didn't hurt.


Good question...

I went to the midwife today and my cankles are nothing to worry about. My blood pressure is fine and no protein in my urine, so we just chalk it up to uncomfortable but harmless late third trimester water retention.

To answer the question, "cankles" are when your ankles and your calves blend into each other.

I went to yoga tonight and feel a lot better.


Dad Paints the Nursery...

...and Mom has cankles. M has been hard at work this week painting the nursery. Because M is a creative man, and also because he has a tendency towards not doing things the simple way, this has required three shades of paint and lots and lots of taping, painting, drying and waiting. But I think it's going to look really great and can't wait to put the finishing touches on it, which include extremely cute monkey decals. Stay tuned for photos of the finished room.

In other news, we had a great time with the family at Pete and Meg's wedding last weekend. For some reason I took only one photograph the entire week, which included my baby shower, several family dinners and the wedding itself. However, there were enough cameras flashing from the rest of the family to make up for that. This photo was taken by Aunt Mary. You may notice that I was forced to purchase some bedazzled flip flops to wear to the wedding, since my feet, and hands for that matter, are a bit larger than they used to be. I also have recently developed pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome (caused by water retention) and my middle finger is permanently numb and tingling. But this is all normal, apparently, and oddly the treatment for water retention is to drink more water. My mother would love that one, as that was her favorite prescription for all of our ailments during my childhood. There's nothing like trying to flush your kidneys when your bladder is squashed into the size of an acorn.

In an unusual fit of nesting, I washed some baby clothes and set up the sleeping/changing area in our bedroom with the pack-n-play that my aunts bought us. Besides that, I've been working nine hour days all week to finish all the training. The one thing I didn't anticipate was how tiring doing all that facilitating would be, and hours on my feet has not been great for the state of my cankles. But overall, it's gone really well with my tutors, and I should finish up tomorrow.

And finally, I've been enjoying the Ken Burns National Park series that's airing this week. Of course there's lots of Ken Burns-y panning of beautiful photographs, but I am also learning a lot about the complex history of the parks, as well as reliving some great memories - like the bear in the Grand Tetons and green lushness of the Ho Rainforest.


Well, we survived the G20....

...and I didn't see one poo-flinging anarchist - imagine that. To the KDKA talk radio hosts who freaked out my family members with your apocalyptic predictions...haha! You were wrong.

However, what happened at Pitt last night is really kind of disturbing.

Pitt's campus seemed to be the hotbed of action during the whole event, although for a college campus there were remarkably few organized protests or anti-G20 sentiments at all. The police clashed repeatedly with students who were doing what students typically do on a warm, late summer night in Oakland...hanging out around Oakland.

I worked on campus on Thursday and there was a very edgy vibe going on at that point, with hundreds of officers in riot gear, boarded up windows, and oddly empty sidewalks and campus buildings. The police had literally nothing to do all day long. So it kind of makes sense that once the students came out for the evening, there would be some kind of confrontation.

On Friday evening, I received this text message from the University's emergency alert system:

"Conditions may be deteriorating in Oakland. Students are advised to remain near their residences."

That was it...no information about what the "conditions" were (terror plot? anarchist invasion? riot?) or what particular area to avoid, so I'm assuming that once thousands of students received this message, out of sheer curiosity they went out looking for the excitement, if they were not already out. I would love to know what administrator made the call to send out this ridiculous message. What were you thinking?

Here's a video of the action, posted by Pitt News.

The rest of the local media was distinctly silent on this issue, by the way. Odd, since they were running around the city for three days declaring every gathering of 10 or more people a "protest".

Who is to blame here? I guess you could argue that the students should have just stayed in their dorms, but there certainly is nothing illegal or out of the ordinary about hanging out on the streets of Oakland at night. The police did issue a call to disburse, but from the video clips, it appears they were a bit heavy-handed in their "non-lethal" arrest tactics. I blame that on boredom and testosterone. And a general culture of acceptance of police brutality in this city.

I'm going to be closely following the dialogue on campus about this incident in the coming weeks. I wonder if it will jump-start an apathetic generation to at least question the state of democracy and free speech in our country. Will Pitt change how they handle future crowd control circumstances? (cuz yinz know we're going to the Super Bowl again this year, and that will surely require some crowd control.)

So what do you think? Are Pitt students jackasses who provoked the police? Or were did the police embarrass themselves with their lack of restraint, tarnishing an otherwise very peaceful few days of Global Summit in our fair city?


G20..."Protests"?? How to Tell the Difference

If you are watching any of the local news channels to get information on the G20 "protests", you may want to take the stories with a grain of salt, lest you think large numbers of anarchists have descended upon the 'Burgh. Most of the "action" last night was caused by Pitt students, who basically congregated to try and see the President. It's likely that many of them were drunk, and most probably couldn't even tell you what the G20 is for.

The Pitt News has an interesting write-up about the events in Oakland. Really, the only difference I see between what happened after the Super Bowl and last night is that there were hundreds of additional cops stationed in Oakland, and precautions were taken in advance - like all the picnic tables and trash cans were removed by Pitt earlier this week. When I went to work yesterday, it seemed that the vast majority of Pitt students had taken off for the weekend...so I guess it could have been a lot worse if the normal population was there. Nonetheless, I think Nordenberg's light-handed response to students who caused over $100,000 worth of damage in February of this year - only a few students were disciplined - gives Pitt students very little incentive to actually abide by the Student Code of Conduct.

The big march, which is permitted, is scheduled for today. That will be Pittsburgh's chance to see some legitimate dissent. I'm curious to see how the police will act towards these groups.

The supposed "anarchists" - who bore an odd resemblance to young boys playing dress up as ninjas (and were about as articulate when they were interviewed) - were limited in number...although you wouldn't know it from the news coverage.


Seriously. Please don't.



Exciting Month

M and I went to see the midwife yesterday and all's well with the little one...good heart rate, and measurements, etc. I, however, seem to have considerably less energy than her. I had my blood drawn for iron and thyroid levels, but it seems they are normal, so, as the midwife put it, "it's just regular old third trimester fatigue." I worked from home today, for the sole purpose of being able to take a post-lunch nap. I must admit that I spend a good portion of my waking day thinking about the next time I can lay down. Next week, I have to start giving my tutor training sessions, which means about 8 straight hours on my feet, while I talk enthusiastically about literacy. That seemed so doable just last week. My due date is still over a month away, but I will technically be full-term in a couple of weeks.

Tomorrow my sister is coming into town and Mark's mom is hosting a baby shower for me. Then the rest of the relatives will begin descending on us and we'll have all the wedding festivities for Pete and Meg. I can't believe my little brother is getting married! Of course, the wedding coincides with the G20 summit, so I'm sure I'll have all kinds of adventures trying to get to work next week. The administration at Pitt seems committed to staying open, but I'm sure it's going to be impossible to catch a bus and the traffic and parking situation will be terrible.


Rain Could Not Dampen the Spirits...

As you may know, I was really excited to go camping this weekend. Since hiking the AT, I have never come across a mattress I really liked better than my Thermarest. Growing a baby has interfered with my sleep somewhat, but I figured if I could overcome the challenge of getting in and out of the tent to pee, I would sleep just as well as in my own bed at home. The Rachel Carson Challenge was so fun that M registered for another one day challenge hike, the Keystone Trails Association Super Hike. Now, I am certainly not up for hiking 25 miles at a time, but I figured it would be nice to get out of town one last time before the baby comes.

"Are you sure you want to camp?" M asked. Yes, I insisted that camping when 8 and 1/2 months pregnant is exactly what I wanted to do. No problems.

"Are you sure?" He asked again, as it started to rain on our way to check in at the Keystone Trail Club. What's a little rain, I thought. I've camped in worse.

"Are you sure you're sure?" He said when the rain turned torrential, slowing our journey, with darkness falling quickly on windy country roads through Amish country. When we finally made it to the trail club headquarters to check in for the hike, about ten minutes before they closed, the road was halfway underwater. We stepped out of the car and immediately sank into a river of cold, wet mud.

So camping? Maybe not. Much to my disappointment, we found a hotel room in York. Although, especially after I saw the updated report on the Weather Channel, I had to admit that setting up a tent in a campground in a floodplain, and then hanging out all day at said campground while M hiked 25 miles in the rain would not have been fun.

Instead, I did a lot of napping and eating of free continental breakfast while M was slogging up and down the Susquehanna River. When I arrived at the finish line for the celebration picnic, I had two surprises. First, M was in surprisingly good spirits despite the truly awful weather, and second, JEB, a hiker we met on the AT a couple of years ago, was there! There is nothing like running into an AT hiker...it's so easy to just pick up where you left off.

According to M, highlights from the Super Hike included some beautiful overlooks of the river, lush rhododendron groves, and rocky waterfalls probably enhanced somewhat by the rain. And of course, when he found out at the finish line that hot showers were available, he was all smiles. It was certainly not as grueling as his last super hike, but M still put in a solid seven hours of hiking and his feet were an interesting shade of gray due to all the stream crossings he did. The best thing about this hike was that M got a chance to scope out another set of trails for us to explore with a little hiker in tow next summer. I can't wait.


Young People Silent on Health Care Reform

A commentary on CNN today discusses the silence of Americans aged 18-34 on the subject of health care reform.

Young adults represent nearly a third of the uninsured. I am not among that population at the moment, as M and I both have employer sponsored plans. During our young adult time, we've had a combination of really bad employer sponsored plans, pretty decent ones, a high-deductible HMO we purchased privately, and have gone without insurance. We have no serious medical problems and no pre-existing conditions.

People who oppose reforms show a real lack of understanding about how much it actually costs to purchase insurance on your own, how pointless it seems to even buy that coverage when those companies have the right to drop you as soon as you actually need the coverage and what the job market is like for young people.

At one point, I looked into Pennsylvania's sponsored plan for low-income adults. You still had to pay a premium, but it was within my reach, unlike the plans available on the open market.

I gave up on that one when I found out there were 56,000 eligible people on the waiting list.

I called around some local OB/GYN practices to find out what it would cost for an annual exam and lab work. It was $500 if nothing was wrong. Knowing that if something really was wrong and I required a procedure, I would really be screwed, first because I didn't have thousands of dollars, and second because I would then have a pre-existing condition that if I ever did get on an insurance plan, would likely not be covered for some period of time.

Instead, I crossed my fingers and went a few years in between Pap smears. I now work at a job where I make virtually no money, but do have health insurance...a deal I'm glad I stumbled into before I found out I was pregnant, because, you guessed it, that would have been a pre-existing condition, and therefore Not Covered. And you don't even want to know what it costs to have an uncomplicated, vaginal birth...nevermind the potential for true financial disaster if you need a C-section or the baby has problems.

Many entry level jobs these days, including jobs M and I have held (and we are college-educated) are "temp" jobs. Temping does not mean temporary. You may work in one of these jobs for months or even years, hoping to get a chance at a permanent job within the company. Temping generally just means that you don't get benefits, which saves the company crap tons of money.

I know people who are very qualified to work in other fields but choose employment at Starbucks or Trader Joe's, companies that have more progressive health insurance programs and cover their part-time workers.

When we purchased HMO coverage with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, we had a rather reasonable rate of around $300 premium per month with a $2,500 deductible. This plan did not cover routine care of any kind, until you surpassed the deductible. We paid on the plan for about six months, and then were informed that our rates were increasing. By $150 per month. Personally, I felt that we had just flushed several thousand dollars down the toilet and became very disillusioned with the open market. At least as it applies to maintaining my health.

I don't object to paying for health care.

I don't want a handout.

I just want to know that I can afford routine care, and if I get sick, I won't have to worry about losing my coverage.

The rhetoric over the fear of government "rationed care" is ridiculous. We already have rationed care. It's rationed by health insurance companies. I'm not going to go as far as to call them heartless bastards, but seriously, how else are they supposed to act when there is a profit motive?

My impassioned plea to the opponents of reform and those on the edge is to look past the distracting death panel rhetoric. Rethink the naive notion that your current insurer is going to be there for you when you need it. Imagine a more productive country where people are not mired in medical debt or live in fear of getting routine care because they don't want to be labeled with a "pre-existing condition" when they are in their twenties.


Happy Katahdin Day!

It was two years ago today that M and I made it up Mt. Katahdin and touched that last white blaze on our 2,174 mile hike. I remember it like it was yesterday. The night before, we shared a shelter with Caveman of Ohio, and he was so excited I think he must have got up at about 4 am! If I recall correctly, it was only a 5 mile hike from the Birches campground up to the summit, and the trail started out gently winding through evergreens. But soon, we were above treeline, with misty clouds swirling around us, and we hit a portion of the trail that was incredibly steep. I remember I had to take my pack off and throw it up over a rock ledge so that I could pull myself up on the rebar ladder that was driven into the rock. Soon, we made it to the plateau at the top, crossing Thoreau Springs, and the cloud cover faded away. For the last mile or two, the endless lakes and mountain ranges of Central Maine spread out around us.

We had unusual weather that day...it was clear with very little wind, which gave us an opportunity to sit and enjoy the panoramic views with our friends: Lucky and Packrat, Caveman, Hemlock and Rio, Umbrella Lady and Habitual Hiker.

And then...the Holy Crap moment....what do we do next? With no more white blazes to follow, no food left in our pack and forty miles from the nearest town, we couldn't sit on that mountain all day. We went down the other side and stuck our thumbs out when we got to the parking lot at the bottom.

And the next thing we knew we were homeowners with a baby on the way. I've wondered often what would have happened if we had made different choices on that journey away from Katahdin. Maybe we should have followed Caveman to the Hiker Feed in Monson. Or gone to Harper's Ferry and volunteered for the ATC for a while. We could have headed back down south to Damascus and joined the motley assortment of hiker trash that worked the hostels and bummed their way up and down the southern stretches of the Trail.

Instead we hitch-hiked to Bangor and rented a car, and followed the AT back through New England, crossing over the trail many times. It felt so different moving at 55 mph. At the time, I was simply reveling in daily showers and wearing clothes that didn't smell like plastic and old sweat.

I remember thinking how strange it was when it started to rain in Vermont and I was inside the car...I could see the rain, but couldn't feel the dampness, or smell the fertile stench of wet bark and decomposing leaves, or hear a million tiny drips all around me. It was like watching a movie of rain.

Two years later, I know the way I usually talk about the AT is somewhat romanticized. The pictures show a series of tan, strong, grinning hikers perched on impossibly beautiful rocky outcroppings and lounging next to clear mountain streams. But that's just because we never took the camera out when it was raining or foggy or we were desperate to get those last few miles in before camping for the night. I never stopped to take a picture of myself when thunder started to rumble, or my feet hurt, or when the only water source for miles was a yellowish-brown beaver pond. I have no pictures of uneven campsites or soggy tents or poison ivy. But those memories are just as real as the scenic stuff.

From Springer Day to Katahdin Day in 2007 I have six months and six days of incredibly vivid memories...pleasant and unpleasant. I can take myself back there like it was yesterday...my first glimpse of the Smoky Mountains, stretching out in gray-purple waves across the horizon; hopping over tiny, neon-bright red efts laying all over the trail after a rainstorm; and of course, running my fingers across the weathered wood of the Mt. Katahdin sign, on my very last day as a thru-hiker.