Beach Reads

morning at the beach

There is nothing that I love more than reading at the beach. Do a little reading, take a dip to cool off, do a little more reading… heaven. The beach calls for a particular kind of book too – nothing too heavy, really engaging, something you could finish in a day or two. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions of books that would be good beach (or any lazy vacation) reads.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. After the break-up of her marriage and a horrible car accident, Janzen heads to her parent’s house to heal. This doesn’t sound like a particularly uplifting start to a memoir, but Janzen is quite funny. Raised Mennonite, but now a 40-something, non-religious Academic, returning home is a bit of an adjustment, but the love of her family is strong and her sense of humor doesn’t fail her (or us).

Admission by Jean Hanff Korewitz. A fictional look inside the life of an admissions counselor at Princeton University. With Portia Nathan’s personal life is in a rut and some unresolved issues in her past, Nathan faces a challenge when she meets a boy on one of her admissions visits who she wants to admit, but who doesn’t quite match Princeton’s high standards.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. When Marina Singh’s colleague at Vogel Pharmaceuticals dies while on a trip to the Amazon while trying to check on the development of a particularly promising fertility drug, she is sent after him to finish what he started. This is a complete page-turner.

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. This the first book in the Tales of the City series – a total soap opera in book form centering around the inhabitants of 28 Barbary Lane in 1970s San Francisco. If you enjoy it, not only are their more in the series (always a plus with quick reads!), but the PBS mini-series based on the books is quite good.

A Thread of Grace by Maria Doria Russell. Set during World War II, A Thread of Grace tells the a fictional version of the very real story of the Italian Resistance who sheltered more than 40,000 during the Nazi occupation.

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith. McCall Smith has said that 44 Scotland Street was inspired by Tales of the City, and both center around the inhabitants of a single apartment building (in the case of 44 Scotland Street, the building is in Edinburgh). I didn’t even notice the resemblance however, as the characters are unique (as all good characters are). My favorite character is Bertie, a smart and funny 5-year-old with a controlling mother. Like Tales of the City, this is a series, so if you like it there are more to come.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. If a girl who plans vacations around historic sites relating to the assassinations of American Presidents sounds like your kind of nerdy, the Vowell is the girl for you. Assassination Vacation is hilarious and smart – and what’s better than reading about vacation, while on vacation!

Blackout by Connie Willis. Willis has a few books about Oxford Historians (from the future, of course) who travel back in time to historic events to study them up close. In Blackout the historians travel back to World War II, the Blitz in London and other spots in the UK during the same time period. Blackout sucks you right in – and you will be glad there is a sequel (All Clear).

The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang. The Latehomecomer is another memoir, and a much more serious one. Yang tells the story of her family (part of the Hmong ethnic group) and their journey from the mountains of Laos to the refugee camps of Thailand to colder climes of St. Paul, Minnesota. Yang is a beautiful writer and her family’s story is a powerful one.

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama. When Mr. Ali, retires from a life of civil service, he drives his wife crazy knocking about the house. To give himself something to do, he decides to open a marriage bureau and assist in arranging marriages. Set in a small city in Southern India, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is a quiet but enjoyable read, in which the problems are small, the joys are real, and the characters are agreeable.

So those are a few books I would recommend. Now, what would you recommend? We have two short beach vacations coming up this summer and I need some good books to take with me!

Beach Reads

5 Years Ago

Five years ago today, on a scorching DC night I went to a bar to meet a friend. ALA was being held in DC and I had spent the day conferencing and had already been to one librarian happy hour. It was relatively late – around 11 PM, but I was younger then and the bar was across the street from my apartment, so I figured what the heck. I’d have one drink and then head on home to get some sleep.

I was chatting with my friend, drinking a vodka-cranberry, when this very cute girl walked into the bar. I noticed her. Of course. I had no plans to talk to her. I’m just not good at chatting up strangers. But then – miracle of miracles – she had gone to grad school with my friend. She came over to say hi. I tried not to make a complete fool of myself. She wandered off to talk to other friends. I was interviewed by a NY Times reporter about the hipness of librarians (Random!). I figured that was it. I had missed my shot at the cute girl because I was such a wimp.

But she came back! And when my friend went to the bathroom, she took over her seat and didn’t leave. We just kept talking. She bought me a drink. I tried to flirt a little. We shut down the bar. I had never before, and have never since, shut down a bar.

Outside the bar, we kept talking. Her friend, the DJ, was packing up. The girl said, so what now? And I thought, now we kiss. And for the first time in my life, I made the first move. It was worth it.

A few days later she flew home to Reno. I didn’t even wait a month before flying out to visit (for 9 days!) By December, she had found a job in DC and moved into my studio apartment. Three months after that we bought a house. And then, almost three years after that night at the bar, reader, I married her. At the beginning everything happened so fast that it seems almost crazy that it has now been FIVE years. Five amazingly happy years in which I have been luckier than I could have ever imagined. All from stopping by a bar on a hot summer night.

jami and me

5 Years Ago

Exclusive Pumping

This is a post that is going to be of specific interest to a specific group of folks… and absolutely boring to everyone else. If reading about breastfeeding isn’t your thing, skip it!

Because I’m a big believer in “The More You Know”, I wanted to write about my breastfeeding experience. There is a lot of judgment surrounding breastfeeding – whether you do it or not, for how long, in what way – and I just want to tell a straightforward tale of how it worked for us. I firmly believe there is no “right” way to feed your infant – I’m for formula or breast or a combination in whatever way works for you.

This is the point where I say, coworkers, in laws, future employers, seriously, skip it…

Okay, now that they are gone, here is the thing… I have inverted nipples. Every health professional I have ever seen as an adult who has both seen my boobs and heard that I hoped to have children has told me that I would likely have trouble breastfeeding. My midwife told me at my first appointment that if I did everything she and the lactation consultant told me to, “maybe I would be able to breastfeed by 3 months”. I remember clearly thinking, lady, if this baby isn’t breastfeeding by 3 months, we’re doing formula. I really believe in the benefits of breastfeeding, but I also believe in not making yourself insane.

All this is to say, I went into breastfeeding hoping it would work (I heard plenty of anecdotal stories of women whose babies sucked those inverted nipples right out), armed with equipment and a Plan B, which was… if we can’t get the baby to feed directly off me, I’ll just pump. That way she’ll at least still get breast milk. Frances was born, and we gave it a go. Sometimes she really seemed to get a good latch, but mostly we (and I do mean we, feeding on the boob was always a 2 person job. I needed lots of help with positioning, keeping her awake, etc) would spend maybe 30 minutes trying to get 5 good minutes of sucking. Frances lost weight (this is normal, all babies lose weight after birth as they are learning how to feed themselves), more weight than the doctors wanted her to. The pediatrician tried to tell us we needed to supplement with formula, but I really wanted to avoid that. I wanted to be able to breastfeed our baby and I worried that supplementing with formula would make that harder – lead to “nipple confusion” and supply issues. Finally two days in, the hospital lactation consultant was back on duty and got me started with pumping.

For the first week, we did a very long, two person required feeding routine. I would try to get Frances to nurse (again with the help of more equipment). We would try to do at least 15 minutes on each boob, but often there would only be a few minutes of good sucking in that time. It was hard for Frances to get a latch and she was super sleepy in the first few weeks after birth (in addition to the world being new and exhausting, Frances was also jaundiced, which makes babies sleepier). After the nursing attempt, I would pump and Jami would feed Frances pumped milk through a syringe (we were attempting to prevent “nipple confusion” by not using a bottle). This process usually took about an hour – and was repeated every 3 hours from start to start – so you never had longer than 2 hours of “not feeding”.

At the one week point, I was worried. I didn’t think Frances was getting enough to eat or gaining weight quickly enough. She needed to be back up to her birthweight by the 2 week mark and I just didn’t think that was happening. I was, honestly, freaking out a little. So I called the Breastfeeding Center and a lactation consultant came for a home visit. She had a scale and so could confirm that Frances wasn’t gaining weight at a quick enough rate and told us that the most important thing was to get Frances eating. It was such a relief to me when she said that we should just feed Frances pumped milk from a bottle for the time being. I was finding each nursing session so stressful and as soon as one was over, I would dread the start of the next one. Feeding my daughter pumped milk I could do. I had been pumping every time Frances fed (so 8 times a day) since 2 days postpartum. My milk had come in. I had good supply. I could get her the milk she needed, just so long as she didn’t have to get it straight from my body. At this point, we switched from the syringe to the bottle. (The lactation consultant said that Frances could just as easily start to favor the syringe over the boob, as she could the bottle over the boob – and it much easier to feed a baby by bottle than by syringe.)

We had a second consultation at 2 weeks (Frances had gotten back up to birthweight!), but Frances was still having trouble breastfeeding, so we stuck with bottles. The consultant did tell us that her suck would get stronger as she got older and that we might be able to get her on the boob when she got bigger. With that in mind for the next 6 weeks or so, I tried to do at least one “on the boob” session a day – not worrying about if she got enough food for that session, just thinking of it as practice!

It was suggested that at some point, when Frances was older, with a stronger suck, we could do a “breastfeeding bootcamp” – where we spend a weekend not giving her bottles and basically forcing her to nurse in order to feed. For women this works for, more power to you, but I was not interested at all. At the end of the day, I wanted my baby to eat and to grow. I didn’t want to cause us both stress and frustration to try to make it happen a certain way. At 2 months I decided that feeding directly from the breast wasn’t going to happen (or at least wasn’t going to happen soon enough for me) and I dropped the daily breastfeeding session.

So I pumped. I was slowly able to stretching my pumps further apart – going from 8 pumps a day to 6 to 5 to finally (at 3 months) 4, which made things easier. Once Jami returned to work at 2 weeks, I had to pump and feed Frances at the same time, which is… logistically difficult. I would either lay her on her side, swaddled in the glider while I sat in a chair in front of her, or balance her on my legs, carefully in the middle of the pumping apparati. I had a thrush scare. At my 6 week check up, my midwife said she thought I had thrush because my nipples were pink and shiny, so for 2 weeks I put diluted vinegar on my nipples after every pump and boiled the pump parts every day. (In the end, I don’t think I had thrush, I think my nipple were just pink from all the pumping. Frances never caught thrush and all the vinegar did was irritate my nipples).

At 3 months I returned my rented hospital grade pump, and switched to the Medela Pump in Style I had purchased. This was the beginning of the end, although I didn’t know it at the time. The Pump in Style wasn’t as comfortable at the hospital pump and I had to put it at a level that was slightly painful in order to actually express the milk. At the same time, Frances was getting more active (and thus harder to pump around) and I was getting more tired (and thus eager to stop waking up early and going to bed late to get those pumps in). Then when I dropped my middle of the night pump (in the name of sleep) my supply dropped. I started eating oatmeal and taking Fenugreek, which got it back up to where it needed to be, but I was just done. I was ready to not be pumping. I was ready to not have perpetually sore nipples. I was ready to worry about other parts of parenthood. Frances was 3.5 months at that point and I made a commitment to myself that I would make it to her 4 month appointment and then I would start transitioning her to formula.

Two days after Frances’ 4 month appointment, she had her first bottle of formula, and I started to process of weaning (which is a whole ‘nother post in itself). By the time I went back to work, I had stopped pumping in the middle of the day, so I didn’t have to take the pump to work. Last week I pumped for the very last time. In all, the weaning process took a month. Frances has had no problem switching to formula, and I am honestly much happier.

I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I am so happy that I was able to feed Frances for as long as I need, and I am proud that for the first 4 months of her life I was her sole source of sustenance. Pumping was hard and I did it for a 1/3 of a year and I feel good about that. That said, I also think that having a sane, happy mother is more important than breast milk, so I’m also happy that I stopped when I did. 5 months of pumping was the right balance for me – and I fully support whatever other women decide is right for them. It’s hard and personal and no one else can (or should) tell you what to do.

As a final note – I have heard comments to the effect that “breast milk is free” quite a bit. In theory that’s true, but it cost me something like $900 in pump rental, lactation consultants, and pump purchase for me to be able to feed my daughter breast milk for 5 months. That’s certainly more than it would have cost to feed her formula. Clearly there are more factors than just economic when women make these decisions – but I do find the “breast milk is free” argument to be a little specious.

Exclusive Pumping

May Round-up

I read 3 books in May, all fiction. Two in print (I KNOW!) and one on my Kindle.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. I picked this book up at the library because I liked the cover… and it was good. Annie and Buster Fang’s parents are performance artists and their career really takes off when they start to use their children (designated Child A and Child B) in their performances. The story flashes back and forth between present day when Annie and Buster are trying to get their lives together and reports on the various artistic pieces of their childhood. It’s funny, but also sometimes raw. Much better than I would have expected from a random book chosen for its cover!

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart. This is the fourth book in the Mysterious Benedict Society series and it’s really a prequel – telling the story of the childhood of Nicholas Benedict (the adult patron of the Mysterious Benedict Society in the first three books). The whole series is truly enjoyable – both for grown-ups like me who enjoy a good kid’s book, and for it’s intended late elementary school/middle school audience. Recommended.

Mara and Dann: An Adventure by Doris Lessing.

May Round-up