Sunday Morning Danish in the Park

There’s something very fine about getting up early in the morning. But although I love to, I haven’t been in the habit of doing so. My nocturnal work schedule, and the desire to draw out my sleep by staying in bed for as long as possible, meant that, for quite a while now, I’ve been rising late.

This past Sunday, I was up at 7:00. Of course, 7am isn’t all that early for many people. But it’s the crack of dawn for me, and I was excited to revel in the solitary pleasures afforded by being (I was sure) one of the only people up before 9 on a Sunday.

Heading to Café Besalu (pastry Mecca, makers of Seattle’s best croissant) after dropping my partner off at work, I looked forward to buying a perfect pastry without waiting in line. At a little after 8am, there was already a line out the door. Still, it wasn’t snaking down the block, as Sunday Besalu lines tend to do.

besalu

After a modest wait of less than ten minutes, I held in my hand a glowing nectarine danish, its seductively twisted edge and glistening innards beckoning me to take a bite, even though I planned to save it until I got to the park. It was fragrant and flaky and gooey and still a little warm: ecstasy.

my flip-phone capture could not do this beautiful thing justice
                                                  my flip-phone capture could not do it justice.

On to Discovery park, I imagined that my favorite dog-walking zone would be pretty much people-free. As it turned out, though, lots and lots of people are up and about early on Sunday. Apparently, many of them go jogging in Discovery park.

Walking along the south bluff, it was a little disorienting to see so many people running, all in different directions, as if fleeing invisible foes. In my still-sleepy state, their vigor and energy made me a little dizzy.

I sat on a bench overlooking the sound, facing Mt. Ranier in its mist-cloaked glory, and finally ate my danish. Shards of pastry showered my protruding belly, and I was grateful.

Joyous Childbirth Changes the World: A Review

“Women and men are totally different. They are different to the same extent that moles and foxes are different.”

“Women working outside the home have mannish expressions.”

“The coeducation system is a plot hatched by governments and industrial societies… it actually means transforming all girls into boys.”

“Childbirth is the most important process that can enable a woman to become a Mother and a true Woman.”

Were these lines plucked from an ISIS pamphlet on the proper role of women in the Caliphate? A Hassidic dissertation on the impermissibility of educating girls? A Quiverfull tract on women’s jobs as baby factories?

Nope.

They’re straight from Joyous Childbirth Changes the World, by Japanese obstetrician Tadashi Yoshimura. And no, it wasn’t published in 1958: it was published in 2008.

None of this would be terribly surprising if the book were a self-published treatise by a marginal nut-job working in obscurity. The shocking part—the thing that led me to pick up the book in the first place—was a hyperbolic endorsement from the godmother of contemporary midwifery herself, Ina May Gaskin, and from Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom (which—full disclosure—I haven’t read. From what I gather, it seems maybe a little pseudo-sciency, but certainly not at odds with feminism). In a blurb on the cover, Northrup calls the book “A masterpiece of truth and wisdom and hope,” and in her forward, Gaskin compares Yoshimura to Joseph Lister, lauding his “courage and vision.”

Browsing the Ballard library this afternoon, I was looking for something light and easy. I’ve got birth on the brain, and I’m always looking for new insights and information, as well as positive stories about natural, unmedicated childbirth. The title of the book caught my eye: “Hmmm,” I thought. “Joyous Childbirth! Sounds delightful.”

Imagining it would be filled with feel-good anecdotes about the joys and benefits of natural birth, I was shocked to discover, almost immediately upon opening the book, a wackadoodle anti-feminist screed.

While purporting to empower women and wrest them from the oppressive norms of patriarchal society, Yoshimura’s philosophy somehow manages to be simultaneously misogynistic, misandrous, and insulting to anyone with a brain in their head. Which I guess makes sense, given his affection for people without brains: Early in the book, Yoshimura tells the heartwarming story of a baby girl who was born without a brain and went on to “[live] her life as a fully fledged human being… a great life.” (For a couple of hours, anyway.) In reference to the doctors who recommended that her mother get an abortion, he muses, “They were going to kill the baby as something useless, which is exactly what they did in Auschwitz. Doesn’t this mean that modern medical science is the same as Auschwitz?” (Emphasis mine. Resounding *splat* of jaw hitting floor, also mine.)

According to Yoshimura, the only way to become a “true Woman” is to experience natural birth with no interventions. Women who have not given birth, or who have experienced a caesarian or other intervention, are not, therefore, “true” women. Similarly, the experience of birth is supposed to make previously hard, intimidating, “masculine” women more feminine. (Yoshimura isn’t shy in asserting that “Women should be feminine, men should be masculine.” About men who “obey their bosses pliantly, content simply to receive a paycheck,” he wonders: “Can such a prideless man father a child? Can he make a woman pregnant?” Given that the ability to produce viable sperm isn’t exclusive to mercenaries and Bering Sea fishermen, my money’s on “yes.”)

Here are a few more gems:

“Only in giving up our lives for women, will we become men… If you cannot give birth to a baby by yourself… I wonder if you deserve to have a man give up his life for you.”

“The purpose of the female sex is to generate, nurture, and bequeath life.”

“…women in their natural state cannot adapt to male society, so men established the coeducation system to masculinize women. Without masculinizing women and forcing them to work, modern society couldn’t work.”

“Pregnant women must not work.”

There is so, so much more… but I have to stop before my head explodes. (Stress isn’t good for pregnant women.)

How did this retrograde claptrap even get published? How did it end up in the Ballard library? And what the actual fuck were Ina May Gaskin and Christiane Northrup—luminaries in women’s health and staunch advocates for women’s self-determination (or so I imagined)—thinking when they put their stamp of approval on such pernicious nonsense?

I happen to agree with a few of of the book’s key contentions: that vigorous physical activity is good for pregnant women, that natural, unmedicated birth with minimal intervention is the ideal, that childbirth has become over-medicalized. But the bulk of it is such patently ridiculous twaddle that I would laugh, if only it weren’t so resoundingly offensive.

On a scale from “blissed-out water-birth in a crystalline stream surrounded by chirping finches” to “three-day-long, heavily medicated labor” I give this book a rating of “retching into a bedpan after a botched epidural while confined to a hospital bed and catheterized.”

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Summer Bread Baking: Part 2

The loaves weren’t ready to go into the oven until about 11pm last night… which meant hastily pulling them out once they were done and letting them cool on the counter overnight.

In addition to three large loaves, I got four rolls and a mini-pretzel-shaped bread out of the dough. I used two of the rolls for dinner, filled with veggie sausage, sauteed onions, mustard and homemade sauerkraut. The bread ended up being too hearty and dense for this application – but it will make great sandwiches and toast!

This morning, in my addled, just-awakened state, I hustled two of the three loaves into the freezer before I remembered to photograph them. Hence, I got pics of only one post-oven.

I’m looking forward to having homemade bread to eat, at least for a couple of weeks!IMG_3619

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Summer Bread Baking: Part 1

Summer is my favorite season. Tomatoes, berries, stone-fruit, salad, cold wine, days that stretch from 5am to 10pm (at least in the Pacific Northwest), bare skin, swimming, barbecues, sunshine. I’d rather be hot than cold; I’ll take sweaty and sluggish over frost-nipped and shivering any day.

me ayla ice cream

And yet, this year, it’s a little more challenging: As of today, June 12th, 2015, I’m 30 weeks pregnant (that’s 7-and-a-half months for you non-preggos). I’m bigger than I have ever been in my life, my blood-volume has almost doubled, everything is hard. And I am hot.

Opening the three windows that actually open in my apartment doesn’t accomplish much beyond letting in the aromas of vehicle exhaust and my neighbor’s overflowing ashtray, baking in the sun. At night, I’m down to just a sheet, promptly kicked off.

The upshot of this is that I really, really don’t want to turn on the oven. This is problematic, since my summer diet is fairly sandwich-centric, and I’m getting really sick of mediocre store-bought bread. Don’t get me wrong: Seattle is replete with good bakeries. But nice bread is expensive, I’m more squeamish about dumpster-diving in my present condition, and the artisanal hearth-loaves that make such exquisite toast often fall short when it comes to sandwich-making.

When I looked at the weather forecast (which I do obsessively) and discovered that today was only supposed to hit 68 degrees, I jumped at the chance to make bread.

sponge

Bread baking, unlike many other kinds of baking, is not an exact science. I relish the opportunity to add a little of this, a little of that, and to vary my rise times. Today, I decided to make a large batch, fermented in several stages. I started with a wet sponge: a couple quarts of lukewarm water, a mix of all purpose and whole wheat flours, and about 1 ½ teaspoons of yeast. I let that sit for a couple of hours until it was bubbly, then added more flour, ground flax seeds, and salt. I kneaded the resulting dough to smooth elasticity while listening to an archived episode of This American Life.

i love flax seeds

dough

kneading

Lacking a bowl large enough to let the dough rise, I resorted to a stock pot; miraculously, it fit in the fridge. (I wanted to keep the dough cold to allow for a long, slow rise in order to develop more flavor—and so I could hold off on baking until nightfall!)

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I’m going to proof and bake my loaves later this evening. Heck, as long as the oven’s on, maybe I’ll even make a pie…

Hi, Bots!

Who knows how many of this blog’s followers are bots? Quite a few, most likely, but I’m disinclined to sift through and count.

When I get a notification that “X is now following your blog,” X is often (ostensibly) a young woman, comely in a mild, girl-next-door sort of way. At first, I assume she’s a real person—and am often disabused of this notion once I visit her profile. “Her” blog may have a name like “How to Make 100K a Year Blogging,” and feature posts with titles like “The 10 Keys to Personal Power,” “Becoming a Person of Influence,” and “Getting Rich is Easy,” accompanied by pictures of gloating, middle-aged white men. I wonder if these women even know that their pictures are attached to scammy websites. I also wonder who’s actually taken in by “unlimitedprofits.com” and “your50Kformula.com.”

Like most people, I would love to be rich. Or, more accurately, to have enough money not to fret about my family’s healthcare needs, to send my as-yet-still-gestating child to college (assuming they want to go), and to travel. So, I guess my aspirations are actually pretty modest.

But I’m under no illusions that I’m going to make money by monetizing my blog. I suppose it’s a remote possibility—but the path I envision to writing success certainly doesn’t entail following the advice of Internet wealth gurus whose claims blend New-Agey self-help-speak with Randian bronomics.

So I’m just going to keep doing what I do, unburdened by the quixotic illusion that writing about nothing in particular and posting pictures of my ridiculous self-administered haircuts will somehow be remunerative.

awesome new earrings: baleen (http://shopbaleen.com)/"meh" new haircut: me
awesome new earrings: baleen (http://shopbaleen.com) “meh” new haircut: me

Signs of Distress

There’s this guy who I see sometimes, on a bench by the canal. He has an old-fashioned radio, complete with twiddly knobs and a broken mirror taped to the top. He holds this ensemble very close to his face, while he raps along to the music quietly issuing from the radio and grimaces into the mirror. Sometimes he does this for hours at a time.

There’s another guy who I often see walking the canal trail. He may be carrying grocery bags, or he may be empty-handed. He is extraordinarily thin, he walks very fast, and he is always dressed for cold weather. Yesterday, it was in the mid-eighties; still, he was wearing a wool hat with ear-flaps, a winter coat, and bulky black pants. He never looks at me, or as far as I can tell, at anyone. He appears entirely single-minded in his walking.

The behavior of the first, I find incredibly disturbing, whereas that of the second elicits curiosity, pity, a strange sense of protectiveness. I dread the thought of Mirror Man observing me observing him, whereas I would welcome an acknowledgement from Walking Man, the opportunity to meet his eyes and smile. Why should this be so? Each man exists apparently outside of the social world, absorbed within his own reality. Both exhibit signs of what is commonly understood as mental illness. Why, then, does one man provoke feelings of threat and revulsion, whereas the other strikes me as completely innocuous?

I have a story that I’ve made up about Walking Man, most likely wrong. In this story, he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, which is the impetus for his walking. Although he’s skinny and worn-looking (he does, after all, spend his life walking briskly from place to place), he has a home that he returns to, where people—probably parents—love him, and make sure that he is fed and clothed and sheltered at night. In reality, he’s probably homeless (though he may well have OCD.)

I don’t have stories about the other man—yet. I haven’t seen him as frequently, for one thing. Also, because of my response to him, he’s remained, thus far, an Other, not a person with a history and a family and a context. I assume he’s in the grip of drugs and delusions, feeding and enriching one another in a continual cycle of disordered fixation.

The walking behavior seems innocent. With his slight frame swaddled as if for winter, his hands occupied by paper grocery bags, his posture upright, Walking Man projects a kind of harmless self-possession, a stoic vulnerability. Mirror Man, on the other hand, seems like he’s practicing for a confrontation. Shirtless, hunched over his radio, head jerking, gaze fixed on his own image in the broken mirror, his performance seems like a metaphor for the aggressive solipsism to which so many of us succumb.

Of course, I know nothing about these people. My assumptions have no factual basis, and my instincts might be all wrong. I’m used to having my perceptions shown to be grossly distorted—reflections of myself, as much as of those I’m perceiving.

the walking man walks
the walking man walks

Please don’t take my pastry away.

I wanted to avoid medicalization of my pregnancy. I’ve chosen to work with midwives, to give birth outside of a hospital setting, and, as far as possible, to avoid interventions.

Now I’m sitting at my midwives’ office, just having chugged a foul, cherry-flavored syrup, feeling betrayed.

During the routine screening for gestational diabetes (GD) they gave me at 28 weeks, my blood glucose measured 139—over the cut-off of 130.

The only risk factor I have for GD is being over the age of 25. Everything else—my ethnic background, family history, and BMI—puts me solidly in the “low risk” category. According to my research, 3-14% of women develop GD during pregnancy. Of those women, 40-60% have no risk factors.

I could go on. I’ve been drowning in percentages and probabilities for the last few days, scouring medical journals and pregnancy forums (fora?) and WebMD. My (perhaps ill-advised) internet trawling only led to increased confusion and anxiety. Last night, I dreamed of the test.

After finding out that I *might* have GD, I reduced my consumption of carbohydrates dramatically and completely eliminated added sugar and refined grains from my diet. I’ve felt envy and resentment and something approaching grief upon seeing anyone eating pastry or an ice cream cone. It’s certainly much healthier to avoid refined sugars and starches, even for people who don’t have diabetes. But, if I’m honest, that wasn’t my real motivation: I was hoping (irrationally) to influence the test.

Now I’m sitting at home, eating granola with fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market and organic, non-homogenized, grass-fed whole milk (which I’ve learned, since embarking on my hypothetical-diabetes journey, actually contains a fair amount of carbohydrate in the form of lactose). It’s delicious.

They told me today at the midwives’ office that they weren’t worried about me; that the three hour test was essentially insurance to prevent my baby from being immediately whisked away in the unlikely event of a hospital transfer and treated as if it had been born to a diabetic mother.

I’m all for minimizing risk, but being consumed with anxiety for several days, then forgoing food, drinking a toxic-looking beverage made with 100 grams of glucose, and sitting still for three hours felt distinctly unhealthy. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t necessary, probably for the best, etc. I just really, really didn’t like it.

I probably will try to be more conscious of my diet now (although I’m certainly no slouch when it comes to healthy eating), replacing my beloved conventional pasta with whole-wheat and eating smaller portions of it, cutting down on my gelato consumption, upping my protein intake.

Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get good news tomorrow; I don’t want to be petulant when my partner tells me he made peach pie at work. And although sugar is the nutritional boogey-man du jour… YOLO.

Everything in moderation, including moderation... right? (Goat cheesecake with blueberries <3)
Everything in moderation, including moderation… right? (Goat cheesecake with blueberries <3)