Friday, January 29, 2010

Better view

Aaaahhhh... trade winds are back. And here's the difference:


Much better view without all that vog.


We were looking into cord blood donation at the time our babies are born; assuming all goes well with the delivery, the stem-cell-rich blood in the umbilical cord, which is normally thrown away, can be harvested and used in the treatment of bone marrow diseases, multiple myeloma, etc. Seems like kind of a no-brainer. There is a public cord blood bank in town which will collect and bank it for future use by someone who needs it. But it turns out that the current state protocol for harvesting cord blood excludes multiple pregnancies, possibly because of the general chaos in the delivery room when you are giving birth to twins. I suppose it makes sense, but it's disappointing.


I will never get tired of this

It's time for NOAA's annual whale count. The best part? The whales come in so close to shore that the count is conducted by civilian volunteers FROM THE LAND.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It Made My Day

That website "F*** My Life" can be a great source of humor, though mostly of the schadenfreude variety, and sometimes people write about truly awful things that happened to them, which are not even funny but only cringeworthy. Instead, why not check out It Made My Day, which is a site where people post awesome things that happened to them - mostly little moments in the day when you realize that things are in fact wonderful. IMMD.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New view revue

No, really, I haven't forgotten about this blog. But let's just say, there's no tired like pregnant tired.

The new place is on the seventh floor. It looks out across the street, over the verdant campus of a fancy private school opposite us, and up to a precipitous hill dotted with the homes of the wealthy (or those who bought property before about 1975). The lights of these houses make it a picturesque view even at night. Further back, the valley where we used to live is visible to the right, and another set of hills to the left. The photo below is too wide-angle to give the real sense of it - I zoomed out farther than I should have in an effort to get it all in - but from the kitchen table where we work, the view out the sliding glass doors gives onto a great gulf of air hanging between us and the hillside opposite. The tradewinds have died out completely today (aargh) which brings the plume of the active volcano streaming directly over our city, and our air is hazy with vog (volcanic smog). It's also hot and sticky. But this morning when I took the picture, the slightly thickened air was shimmering in the first light, illuminating the vast space between the high-rise buildings and the green and rising hills. The photo doesn't capture it at all, sadly.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Shield the joyous

I'm not really back, folks: we're into the new place but surrounded by boxes, I've suddenly been hit with Total Pregnancy Exhaustion plus back pain that would make you think that I actually did any heavy lifting this weekend (don't worry, all I did was drive the van), and it's the first week of classes. But I wanted to post something.

I've been thinking lately about the relationship between Christian and Jewish liturgy, since we sing a Compline service weekly at a Lutheran church in town, as a way of getting our music fix. Like many church musicians, we are kind of liturgy junkies; even though we are Jews, we think seriously about what we hear from the Lutherans as well, about how and why it's different, about how those differences are explained by the quirks of history, and about what we might share despite our differences. We've been warmly welcomed by the Lutheran congregation for which we sing - we're not really members of the congregation, but as one of the congregants said, "You're part of the ohana" [Ohana is Hawaiian for family.], and that feels about right: we have great affection and respect for this community (they are champions at putting their money where their mouth is - always giving to local and national charities - they really take seriously that Christian tradition of giving to those in need). That said, we don't feel that our presence in the Compline choir has had much impact on the Lutherans in terms of their understanding our perspective on the two traditions, and that's something we wish were a little different, although it's hard to know what to do about it without being objectionable. We've invited a couple of choir members to sing with us at our synagogue on Shabbat Shirah (the "Shabbat of Song") later this month, and perhaps that will be a way to open a door.

Meanwhile, the real point of this posting was that, for last weekend's Compline, we had one of my favorite prayers from that service. It's from the order for Compline in the Book of Common Prayer, which is the source for the service we sing each week. I finally looked it up and found out it was written by the awesomely cranky St. Augustine, although we clearly have some Anglican cleric to thank for the lyrical translation. I know that pregnancy hormones are making me even more sentimental than usual, but this prayer makes me a little weepy every time it comes around:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.

Me, I mentally edit out the "Lord Christ," and then just say "Amen."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Don't touch that dial

In lieu of actual blogging while we move into our new place, I give you the awesomeness that is the Live Snow Monkey Cam. This is a webcam trained on a hot spring in the Jigokudani-Yaenkoen snow monkey reserve in northern Japan. Baby monkeys taking baths in the middle of winter! What's not to like?


is EXHAUSTING. But moving into the new place with the new painted ceilings (thanks, us!) and the new linoleum (thanks, Mom and Dad, and also Mr. and Mrs. Miyashiro who are putting it in!) will be great.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Our bodies, ourselves

When I was in college I took an awesome anthropology course called "Women and Citizenship," about different models of gender and personhood and how they affect women's position in state-level societies around the world. One of the problems we took on was the question of a woman's right to abort a pregnancy, and some readings we did in the class suggested that a useful way to understand why the problem of abortion (seen as a social and ultimately a legal problem - not a religious one, though the religious angle is not irrelevant here) seems so intractable is that the real problem is a mismatch between our model of personhood and the actual state of being pregnant. In most cases it is safe to assume that the body is sovereign territory, belonging to one person only: laws against killing, assault, rape, and kidnapping deal with crimes against the integrity of the body (or the integrity of a person's control over his or her own body). But pregnancy is a state in which a single body is shared by more than one person, and the problem then becomes: whose rights to that body have precedence?

I don't mean to suggest that this is the only way to look at the problem of abortion, and abortion is not the point of this post. Rather, it's the insight about bodily sovereignty that seems most apposite to me at the moment. It is true that my body is not merely my own at the moment. It is inhabited by three human beings, myself included. None of those human beings can survive without it, though two of them will eventually be able to, if all goes well; giving birth will leave me in sole tenancy again.

The other thing that's worth noticing here is that the other two people in question (my sons) don't exist in a social vacuum, despite being as yet unborn. They have relationships of their own: they have a father, grandparents, uncles (no aunts yet, but hope springs eternal), and so on. The key here, I think, is that even though their relationship to me is as intimate as any relationship can be at the moment, it is not their only social connection. It's not even their primary social connection (though it is, obviously, their primary physical connection: what I eat, they eat; where I go, they go; and now that they have hearing, what I hear, they hear, which makes me hope they like Renaissance and Baroque music and Canadian folk-rock). Like other human beings, my sons exist in a web of kinship relations. They "belong" to me, but they also belong to their father, to their grandparents, and so on, for better or for worse. (We, and they, are fortunate in that it is almost entirely for better.)

There's also a way in which being pregnant has reminded me that I belong to more than just myself. Early on I noticed that my mother and mother-in-law were taking more than the usual familial interest in my health. It's not that this bothered me at all, but there seemed something a little proprietary in their interest. It reminded me that they by definition have both been where I am now more than once, and that the children who shared their bodies turned out to be me and Rex, as well as our respective brothers.

In the ordinary way of things, we aren't often forced to contemplate the fact of our own birth. The prospect of our own eventual death is nearly endless fruit for contemplation in most human societies, but one's own birth is something that, by the time we get around to contemplating it, we've usually gotten over. But of course I once did just what my sons are doing now: I grew in my mother's body, took nourishment from her, was born out of her in a traumatically physical way. We all were. That's just how it works. Human beings are made, in an intensely physical way, from other human beings (Rex reminds me that this, too, is a fundamental fact that all societies have to wrestle with, and some amazing metaphors have arisen to explain it within different worldviews). And while my parents have always respected my personal and physical integrity to the utmost degree, it is true that in a certain sense I do belong to them. Every day I wear my father's hands and feet, my mother's jawline and cowlicks and that one birthmark, to say nothing of quirks of personality and taste. A little proprietary behavior is to be expected at this point, I'd think, especially as Rex and I are now going through the same process that led to the beginning of our relationships with our own parents.

On top of this, there's a certain inequality in the process of becoming birth parents for even the most progressive of heterosexual couples. As Rex, the anthropologist, points out, we are currently at the point where culture comes up against a biological brick wall. He can and does support me endlessly, but he can't actually take on any of the work of gestation. Once they're born things will even out considerably, even given the one-sidedness of lactation, but for now I'm doing the heavy lifting, as it were. So while I belong to both my parents equally (for the sense of "belonging" that I'm using above), in the period of my life up to my birth I belonged to my mother in a uniquely physical way, because we shared her body.

(I don't mean to suggest here that this is the only kind of relationship that obtains between parents and children. There are more ways to be a parent than birth parenting, including adoption, surrogacy, donor gametes, and parenting situations where one partner may be a birth parent while the other is not. But this is my experience now, so it's what I'm exploring. We might have adopted, and then this would be a different blog entry.)

All this came to mind yesterday at shul after I experienced my first episode of unsolicited belly-patting. I had heard about this phenomenon, where family members, friends, or even complete strangers feel free to pat a pregnant woman's belly, but this was my first experience of it. It was not a stranger, thank goodness, but it still bothered me as an intrusion into my personal space. There's an odd way in which a visibly pregnant woman becomes community property that can lead to some good things, like support from members of your synagogue, and also to some intensely annoying things, like unsolicited criticism about what you're carrying or doing or wearing, and this kind of physical intrusion as well. If a stranger did it I would be very upset and weirded out.

Pregnancy can do a lot of strange things to your body image and your sense of bodily integrity. Although everyone's experience is of course different, the fact of being occupied by another human being (or in my case, two other human beings), along with the physiological changes that accompany the process, are potentially very weird experiences. I am generally OK with most of the changes I've experienced, because whether I find them objectionable (sacroiliac joint pain, swollen ankles, the inability to lie on my back) or not (weight gain, the total disappearance of my waist, and the temporary shelving of my entire wardrobe), I'm well-informed enough to realize that they're all more or less normal. But even I have a certain gap between my gut reactions to the changes happening to my body and my intellectual understanding of them. However normal it is, I fundamentally hate it when my ankles swell, which of course they do every day by the end of the day, unless I've spent the day mostly horizontal, and who has the time for that?

The point is that my sense of bodily integrity is already being messed with by a range of things that are totally normal to the experience and which I in some way signed up for voluntarily. And I think that's why the belly rubbing feels so incredibly intrusive. It's one thing for my sons to violate the sovereignty of my body by gestating inside it: however cosmically weird it is in an existential sense, it's perfectly normal biologically speaking, and in essence I have invited them to do so. In fact I want them to stick around as long as they can (given the propensity of twins to come early). I've even gladly given up a range of things I enjoy (caffeine, alcohol, raw fish, soft cheese, deli meat) for their benefit. It's another thing entirely for a person to move into that space uninvited, and I really am afraid I might snap the head off the first stranger who tries it. But who knows, maybe I'll get lucky and Saturday's encounter will be the only one.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Go look at this now

More awesomeness: 100 Extraordinary Examples of Paper Art. Go check it out (Tommy, I'm looking at you).

Home improvement

Happy New Year! I am spending the New Year painting ceilings in the new apartment. This brings my reduced energy levels and awkward, unbalanced body into sharp relief, but the work is getting done. The routine: paint until we can't take it any more, then take a break. Rex is holding up better than I, predictably: today he took what is probably a memorable shot of me sacked out on the floor of the bedroom, having come back from the hardware store totally exhausted. I let him paint the primer on the whole living-room ceiling (and he did a great job) while I rested. I'm praying we can find someone professional to lay the kitchen linoleum: I realize that our ambition to do it ourselves looks increasingly unlikely. If we had to, we could, but my personal margin of energy is so much narrower than it used to be (to say nothing of coping skills, which in me have always varied directly with the amount of rest I get) that the time-vs-money equation is a lot more real than it once was.

The good news is that the ceilings look pretty good, for a rookie job.