Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How I spent my March vacation

We're home, after an only slightly harrowing day of travel. The harrowing parts took place this morning in Puerto Rico; my neighbors to the south will understand what I mean when I say that our journey through the center of the island and around San Juan (a couple times) to return the rental car made us look with delight and relief on the prospect of driving Route One in Boston during rush hour. No, I am not kidding.

But enough whining about the only stressful part of a truly wonderful vacation. Below, evidence that I spent my time in Puerto Rico doing exactly what I said I would do, and loving every minute of it. (More details, and more pictures, to come later this week.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Greetings from Puerto Rico

Ok, ok, there was going to be no posting while on vacation. In fact, the only reason we even brought the laptop with us is its capacity for playing DVDs -- something that is essential in a resort that, blessedly, completely lacks nightlife. One lesson learned thus far is that, while the giant screen is fantastic for watching movies, it makes the laptop rather large, and kinda heavy for schlepping through airports.

But you're probably not all that curious about the weight of my laptop. You're probably wondering if I can see the Caribbean from my room, or if I have to walk 10 steps to get a glimpse. (The latter.) You're probably curious about how the reading material is holding up. (Finished the Wallace Stegner, which was excellent, yesterday, and am two-thirds of the way through the Saskiad. Also finished the New Yorker and a Rolling Stone. Looks as though the stash will hold out for the rest of the trip, though.) And you might be wanting to know how the relaxation is going.

And that, my friends, I can not put in parentheses. It deserves its own paragraph, a paragraph about the amazement we felt when rounding the corner from the parking lot Thursday night, after we'd parked our extremely elegant Mitsubishi Lancer and dragged our tired, travel-weary bodies to the front desk -- an open-air affair from which we could see one of the two pools, a fancy restaurant where casually dressed people were eating dinner outdoors, several palm trees, a sandy beach and the warm, blue Caribbean. Yes, we like it here. We haven't even looked at the car since we arrived Thursday night. We spent Friday on the beach, with time out for meals, a walk down the beach, a swim in the ocean and a nice nap. We had sunscreened well, though I had a little mishap involving fresh sunscreen rubbed off by my thongs... an error I didn't notice until last night, when I realized that I have a very odd little sunburn pattern across the top of both feet. Even that is rather minor.

This morning we slept late but still managed to snag prime beach chairs under a grass hut for flexibility in our sunbathing options. We were on the beach from 10 until 1:30 or so (all times are approximate -- the watch hasn't left the room), when a little rain shower made us decide it was time for lunch. Since then, it's rained all afternoon. We finished watching Metropolitan on the laptop, then bought a deck of cards and tried to remember how to play gin rummy while we sat at the open-air bar, gazing out at the gray sky, the brightly colored houses across the cove, and the blue sea. It's still raining, I think, which may put a damper on our 7:30 outdoor dinner reservation -- and which has given me dispensation to use the hotel's wifi connection, something I had avoided until now -- but we will live. We are extremely mellow, and very, very happy.

We have plans to take out a couple of the resort's kayaks, to take a ride on the rickety looking ferry to the island across the way, to venture into the dry forest a few miles down this curving coastal road. Whether we will do all that between Sunday and Monday, I don't know... and, really, I don't care. It's enough just to be here, in the warm air and the warm water, to be silent for hours as we both read, to send each other into hysterics at dumb jokes over lunch, to hold hands as we watch the sunset.

Further updates will not be forthcoming if it is sunny, so a lack of things to read for you indicates good fortune for me. We'll see what happens.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The library haul

  • Three books by the poet about whom I am writing a story. (This is somewhat daunting, as I have not read poetry regularly since college, which was lo those many years ago. But so far I like her stuff, and I am not too intimidated about interviewing her when I return.)
  • The Kite Runner. Thanks, grumpy girl -- I'd forgotten that this was on my list.
  • The Saskiad. Thanks, Phantom; it looks great, and it's plenty long!

Also on the reading list for our trip, along with the Austen and Bass books:
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. I found this on our bookshelf the other day; I've never read Stegner, but after a few pages of this novel about friendship, I am hooked. (Plus, it's light -- in weight, not in substance -- which is another bonus.)
  • Many, many magazines. I've hoarded last week's New Yorker and the latest Gourmet. I couldn't keep my hands off the most recent Atlantic -- some really interesting stories, including one about a British spy who infiltrated the IRA, and another about Iraq -- so D will catch up on it as we travel. And then last night my sister and brother-in-law gave us two recent Rolling Stones and an Esquire -- perfect airplane reading.
So I think my extremely neurotic hoarding of reading material is done. You'd think they don't have bookstores in Puerto Rico from the way I'm acting... but there are few things worse than running out of stuff to read while on a beach vacation. (Ok, that is a ridiculous statement. There are lots of things worse than running out of stuff to read at the beach. But I still don't want to do it.)

I've also got the clothes I'm taking piled up on the loveseat in our bedroom (packing is so much easier when you're heading to a climate so different from the windy and frigid one you're currently experiencing), and other assorted things I don't want to forget are stacked on the dining room table. In part, all of this advance preparation is because we leave early Thursday morning (like, 6 am, if not earlier, in order to catch our 9 am flight out of Logan), and because I work all day Wednesday. In part it's because I am a crazy planner. But mostly it's because I. Can. Not. Wait. To. Go. So apologies if the all-vacation-all-the-time blogging is not particularly interesting. We'll soon return to our regularly scheduled pre-baby neuroses anyway.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Crossed off the list

Things we've achieved in the last 24 hours:

~Picked out a car seat and assorted other odds and ends for the registry.
~Bought a crib and mattress.
~Saw the year's first crocuses along the side of our house.
~Witnessed another sign of spring in these parts: a family from Massachusetts moving into the most expensive house on our street. (No offense to Mass. blogging pals, but your commonwealthian neighbors are totally skewing the real estate market up here!)
~Visited the soft-serve place down the street for the first time.
~Found a maternity and kids clothes consignment shop in a nearby chi-chi suburb (= good prices on nice stuff).
~Finally finished watching Good Night and Good Luck.
~Acquired flip flops, sunscreen, shaving cream, and a flash card for the camera.
~Picked up a nice pair of comfy linen pants (that unfortunately will need to be hemmed this weekend) to wear on the plane.
~Got a bikini wax. (Ok, this one was not a joint endeavor.)

And now it's time for a nice nap, with pooches, while D watches basketball. A perfect Saturday afternoon occupation.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Vacation reading

Ok, y'all, I am in need of a little help here. We leave for Puerto Rico on Thursday and I need some good reading material to last me through the six-day trip... a trip that includes two nonstop flights and a lot of beach time, aka prime reading opportunities.

Some things you need to know before offering your suggestions:
~I read fast, especially when I'm reading chick lit fluff. It is not at all unheard of for me to start and finish my first book while on the plane to my destination.
~I really enjoy contemporary fiction -- Ann Beattie, Richard Ford, Chang Rae Lee, Richard Russo, Russell Banks, etc., not least because it makes me slow down and ponder the world the authors are creating (as opposed to the chick lit, which is fun and entertaining, but which makes me gobble it like ice cream).
~I'm not averse to the classics, but I really don't enjoy fantasy/sci fi (sorry, Ginga).
~I don't want to take 94 books with me.
~At the library today, I picked up Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility and a Rick Bass novel (and there's the other problem: see how quickly I ran out of motivation for browsing? I didn't even make it to C!).
~I also pondered getting Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, but it was checked out.

So, with all those caveats in mind, please give me some ideas, particularly for books I can get at the library. (The library in our neighboring city has a pretty wide selection of current fiction, in addition to the classics.) Many thanks.

Slow-moving Friday

Ok, only a week in and already the placebo effect of decaf has worn off. I think part of the problem is that, while I'm not particularly enthused about the freelance projects I have on my plate today, I *am* looking forward to all the errands I need to run later in the day. Only problem? Gotta get the freelance stuff done before I head out. So I'm totally at cross purposes here.

And that's why I'm retreating to the comfort of a nice, warm meme about pseudonymous blogging, as seen at PPB's and jo(e)'s a few weeks back.

Is your blogging persona more serious than your real life persona?
Hmm, that's a tough one. I think it may be, just because the blog gives me room to think out stuff that floats around in my head for weeks on end. So by default I'm a bit more serious here than I am in my day-to-day life... I think. D might disagree, as evidenced by his concern for my grumpiness this morning. But grumpy and serious aren't the same thing, are they?

Do you think the only safe way an academic can write publicly is to write anonymously?
I'm not an academic, but I am a working journalist, and I think many of the issues around anonymity are the same. Journalists are supposed to maintain objectivity -- that's a lengthy discussion we can have another time -- and it's hard to do that, or to satisfy others' perceptions that you can do that, when you're blogging under your real name. So even though my blog is semi-anonymous, I shy away from writing about politics, etc. due to the possibility that someone could connect my personal beliefs with my journalism... and that would be bad. I'm envious of people like Dawn Friedman, whose freelance work and blogging topic overlap.

Do you think that your blog could ruin your career?
See above. "Ruin," I think is a bit far-fetched, but "put a wicked hurt on"? Yeah, that's a possibility.

Do you use a pseudonym out of fear?
Sort of, although I really could have chosen a much better, and more fun, pseudonym back when I started blogging in 2004. It's also freeing, though, to know that I can write about goofy stuff like bra sizes in pregnancy and not have it connected with my professional persona.

What is the biggest drawback to writing pseudonymously?
The weird dance you go through when revealing your "true" identity to other bloggers. Pseudonyms make it all seem a little James Bond, which is probably good for self-protection in the long run, but it's a little awkward in the short run.

Has anyone stumbled on your blog and found it accidentally?
Not that I'm aware of.

Have you outed yourself to any other bloggers?

Has your blog allowed you to experiment with writing?
Yes, a little. I am much more breezy and unfiltered here... little to no revision and, honestly, you're lucky if you get a spell check. I spend so much time worrying about every single word of my professional writing that it's a relief to just blurt stuff out here.

Why do you use a pseudonym?
For the reasons above, combined with the fact that I have relatively unusual first and last names, which when searched together make me the top Google result (for pages and pages). I've had editors read a story of mine, like it and then Google me for clips before ever even contacting me about assignments. So I really don't need them learning about my spats with D or my intense desire, thus far resisted, to drink wine while pregnant.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Getting and spending

The main purpose for my weekend activities was a Saturday-Sunday trip to Philadelphia, where my friends S and R and I were getting together for our second annual girls weekend (no spouses, children or pets allowed). Given that Philly is so (relatively) close to my parents' house, I decided that I'd drive down on Friday and spend the night with them. They've been dying to see the pregnant version of me, and my mom wanted to take me shopping for maternity clothes. And on top of all that, I'd get to see my grandparents, who aren't getting any younger.

So Friday morning I hopped in the Prius at 7 am and made the 400-mile drive to my parents' house in six hours, which I believe is a North American land speed record for travel involving circumnavigation of both Boston and New York. That left plenty of time for shopping. So my mom and I headed to the mall, where she planned to buy me some clothes for Puerto Rico (eight days away, and not a moment too soon). Bizarrely, none of the stores that sell maternity clothes had summer stuff, except for Motherhood, which I hate due to their draconian return policies. Still, I was able to get a couple pairs of shorts and two tops, all of which my mom paid for. (She kept exclaiming, "This is fun!" I'm not sure I agreed -- trying on clothes when six months pregnant was not my favorite activity...)

It's been a while since we did something like this -- shopping for me, but with her shelling out the cash. I felt a little bit of a flashback to college, when I'd come home destitute and my parents would take pity on me and buy me some stuff. And that feeling continued through the rest of the day. (Though I will say that I paid for my own damn bras -- according to the nice ladies at Macy's, I've gone up an entire cup size, which would explain why I am so incredibly uncomfortable most of the time. Unfortunately, the bras that felt so roomy and comfortable in the store did not stand up to the test of a 12-hour day yesterday, so it's back to the mall for me.)

Later that day, we headed to my grandparents' for takeout from a local Italian restaurant. And that's where the college flashbacks got quite a bit stronger. Over dinner, my parents and grandparents announced that they're going to buy us the glider we want for the baby -- a $500 purchase we were resigned to making ourselves. Then my aunt called to ask me what I really wanted from our registry. I hemmed and hawed for a moment, then remembered the Skip Hop diaper bag. She loves to buy purses, so thought that was perfect. The NJ shower isn't until the weekend of Mother's Day, but she went ahead and ordered it online and had it shipped to our house; it should be here in a week or two.

Then my grandfather, who doesn't hear well, caught on to the fact that Darren and I are going to Puerto Rico next week. He stage-whispered to my grandmother that he'd like to give us some money, and would that be ok? She replied -- not able to whisper, because he'd never hear her -- that if he wanted to, that was fine, but that he should remember he's going to be writing a check for half of the glider soon. He nodded, and scurried off to his office. A few minutes later, he pressed a check into my hand, telling me we should use it for taxis on our vacation. (I didn't have the heart to tell him we're going to be renting a car....) Later, when I peeked at the amount, my mouth fell open: He gave us $200. That's a lot of taxis.

As quick as the visit was -- I left before 9 the next morning in order to catch a train to Philly -- I was glad I'd seen them all. But I felt very, very strange about everything that was showered upon me. On the one hand, it's certainly welcome; our finances are rather tight since I switched jobs, and we've got a lot of stuff to buy over the next few months. On the other, buying things for myself once I could afford to was a big marker of independence 10 years ago. So it feels a bit like we're going in reverse, even though I know the gifts are for the benefit of the bambina, and thus far there are no strings -- other than a request to send postcards from Puerto Rico -- attached. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The return of coffee

As I start typing, it is 9:23 am and I am still in my pyjamas. On the desk in front of me is a cup of decaf. Long before I got pregnant, I switched to half-decaf, generally drinking one travel-sized mug a day. I didn't intend -- nor did my doctor ask me -- to give that up when I finally got knocked up, but the morning sickness did it for me. Since that finally lifted, I've slowly begun to enjoy coffee again. And this weekend I got right back into the habit of needing a cup of the stuff to make me feel alert. It's completely psychosomatic, since there is no caffeine. But it works.

This morning, for example, I was feeling quite sluggish. I had a whirlwind three days away -- in fact, I overdid it a bit, which I will explain later -- and even 10 hours of sleep last night wasn't quite enough to leave me perky and ready to work this morning. What I really wanted was coffee. But we haven't bought any in months, since I wasn't drinking it regularly. And the bakery around the corner, where I could buy either a cup of strong and tasty coffee or a pound of excellent beans, is closed on Mondays.

But: in the freezer, I had an unopened can of Folger's decaf, a relic of the days before I switched to the local Excellent Beans company. The stamp on the bottom said it was best used before October 2004. But what the hell -- it's coffee, right? And it's been in the freezer for years, surely preserving some freshness. So I pulled out the can opener and brewed some up.

Is it good? Not really.

Is it coffee? Hell yeah. And it's totally doing the trick of fooling my brain into thinking it's awake. Now if only I could get it to wash the tub so I can take a shower... (I took a rare, for me, bath last night to ease my aching back; the tub, she ain't so pretty this morning, though the bath was exactly what I needed.)

Coming later today:
~On getting and spending;
~Why you should make restaurant reservations if you would like to eat dinner in Philadelphia;
~A certain someone's idiocy when it comes to certain features of maternity clothes; and
~The joy of bras that fit!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Today's moment of surreality

I just put an entire load of baby clothes in the washing machine.

Baby clothes.

Do you know how weird this is? Very. very. weird. But I got them on Freecycle -- girl stuff from 0-3 mos to two years, most of it cute and serviceable, though there were a few pilly polyester sleepers I sent straight to the trash. As long as I can get the cat hair out of everything else, it should be fine. I've now got probably three plastic tubs full of baby clothes, and I've not spent one dime on any of it.

But that doesn't make it any less weird. Apparently, I am having a baby. Whoda thunk it?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Geeky organizational tips wanted

Howdy. I am currently working on a piece for a magazine you've never heard of. Topic: how you can use your gadgets (PDA, mp3 player, computer, software, digital camera, digital camcorder) to organize your life. This topic is simultaneously huge and obscure, and I'm getting a little bleary-eyed trying to figure it out.

One bit of further explanation: The story is not about stuff like organizing your digital pictures or keeping your inbox clean. It is about how you can use your gadgets to keep your home running smoothly (ie, designating one day a month to scan all your bills and shred the originals). So consider this an official plea for help. If you have any organizational websites you love, or any swell gadgety tricks, a la Lifehacker, to keep you and your family organized, I'd LOOOOOVE to hear about them. And, um, soon.

Thanks a trillion.


I'm sure some consulting group somewhere does a study on the effects of a certain Sunday night awards show on Monday-morning productivity. But I don't need consultants to tell me that I am moving slooooowly this morning. Which is unfortunate, since I have two deadlines today and another next week for which I have done absolutely nothing.

We had our traditional Oscar party last night. One year we all got dressed up, thrift-store red-carpet style; wish I could find those pictures. Last night the fancy dress rules were suspended, and we just had a living room full of pals, a bunch of snacks (most of which somehow ended up right. in. front. of. me) and a lot of snarkiness. Astoundingly, not only did I stay awake for the whole damn thing, but we actually had one friend make it to the bitter end as well. I'm not sure either of those events has happened before.

Thoughts on the show? Well, you can guess my feelings about Crash winning best picture. Predictable, but irritating. I think Brokeback Mountain overall got hosed, though at least Ang Lee and the screenwriters (and the composer?) were recognized. And I think both Reese W. and Philip S. H. were deserving of their awards. (Incidentally, we watched Walk the Line and Pride & Prejudice this weekend, both of which were very good. I was surprised at how sad Walk the Line was in parts; I'm not sure if it was the pregnancy hormones or what, but I found myself in tears when June Carter's family babysits Johnny Cash through his withdrawal from his pill (painkiller?) addiction.)

The snark was also predictable: What the hell was Charlize thinking with that big bow? What the hell were Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams thinking? And, boy, isn't Billy Crystal looking worse for the wear. I think he's slowly turning into Mickey Rooney.

So, today, D and I are both dragging. Feeling like we may be getting sick -- we've both been a little sneezy since we spent Saturday afternoon at Salvation Army, looking at dusty furniture, followed by a sojourn in his parents' extremely mildewy basement. The lack of sleep last night made matters worse, as did the consumption of large amounts of sugar (though I have to say that my traditional Academy Awards whoopie pies turned out quite well). It would be a disaster if I got sick this week; I'm scheduled to head to NJ on Friday for a quick visit with my parents and grandparents, then to Philly for a 24-hour girls weekend with my fantastic pals S. and R. So I'm hoping to power through my work, run out to a local baby store to check out a stroller model we're interested in and then come home for a restorative nap.

One last random thought before I return to the work at hand: I know for many people signs of spring include crocuses popping up through the soil, snow melting and songbirds returning. For us, the inviolable sign of spring is when the soft-serve place down the street reopens. Yesterday, the plywood came off the windows, and one of our guests reported that it looked open when he drove over last night. I suspect that was wishful thinking, but opening day will surely arrive this week. And that means that that winter soon will end, and that I get to finish the second trimester and sail through the third on the strength of Barn-Like Dairy Freeze.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Saying no

There was an interesting discussion over at Phantom's a little while back about the difficulty of saying no -- to social requests, work engagements, volunteer stuff, you name it. (Am too lazy at the moment to look up the link, but will try to do it later.) This is something I struggle with, especially when it comes to work. (There's a bigger discussion here about why women, in particular, say yes too much, but that's another thing I'm too tired to think about.)

I've noticed, though, that lately I've gotten a bit better about it. In part that's because I have the easy "excuse" of pregnancy for declining stuff -- and, boy, people don't argue when you say, I'd love to but I'm too tired these days because of the baby. (I'm going to use this while I can.)

Case in point: A few months ago, I agreed to be a guest speaker at a journalism class two-plus hours away. The professor is someone with whom I have a professional acquiantance; he freelanced for me a little bit at my previous job, but we're certainly not close by any means. I really enjoy talking to students, and talking about my job, so it seemed like a good thing to do.

What the hell was I thinking? Two hours away -- which means that by the time I account for the driving and the class itself and the chitchatting afterward, I am practically spending a whole (uncompensated) day to do this favor for someone I don't particularly like. Previously, this sort of thing was part of my job description. Now, it really isn't. I'm not the public face of the publication, and nobody expects me to go out of my way like this.

Despite all that, I have been resigned to doing what I said I would. But the other day I mentioned it to a colleague, who scoffed at the fact that this guy expects me to come all the way from Here to There just to be a guest speaker for 45 minutes. "And you probably won't even get a notepad with the college logo on it in thanks," he said.

And while these sorts of things are never about the perks -- because usually the reward comes from the discussion, and the engagement of the students, rather than from whatever tchotchke you get in thanks -- something clicked in my head when he said that. So this morning I wrote a polite note reneging on my offer to come up (the class is four weeks from today). I hope none of you profs in the crowd are horrified by this, but it felt really good.

Of course, the e-mail just bounced back, so I have to send it again to a different addess, causing me to reprocess all the angst I went through writing it in the first place. I've made my mind up now, though, and I'm not going to change it. Hold me to it, willya?

Two signs that I am not getting nearly enough sleep

1. Gave up cutting my toenails after I showered this morning because it was too difficult. (Please note that my belly is not yet so big as to impede the toenail-cutting process.)

2. When squeezing out my teabag -- a task I perform daily -- could not get the damn teabag straight on the spoon. Ended up flinging it around a few times, once nearly into the monitor, before giving up and throwing it away all soggy.

Reason for this mental haze: The small and neurotic shih tzu, who has decided on both of the last two nights that 3:30 am is a perfectly reasonable time to need to be carried downstairs and let into the backyard for a quick pee. Even though Darren has taken her both times, I have found it damn near impossible to go back to sleep. Am overwhelmed with work today and have a brain that is covered in lint.

Our theories about the reason for Rocky's idiocy:
1. When put out for the last time before bed, she gets too excited about the treat she'll get when she comes in and so runs around the yard and neglects to pee before bounding up the stairs.
2. She sees me getting up at all hours of the night to go to the bathroom and thinks that must be a good idea.
3. She knows how little experience we've had with infants in recent years and is putting us through some sadistic training regimen.