Making autumn

Handknit pumpkinsIt’s hard to complain about Guam’s failure to be fall-like when the sunsets over the ocean are so colorfully surreal, even on the rainiest days.

This evening as the sun was setting, it was windy and relatively cool. The rain had let up, and those moisture-laden clouds created a breathtaking sunset. And I almost forgot to wish there were changing leaves.

Almost. Not completely. In the last week, I’ve been doing my best to engineer a personal autumn while still loving these balmy, thundery, rainy Guam days.

I’m knitting and crocheting pumpkins.

I’m sewing things with autumn-colored fabric (and remembering why I typically avoid sewing. So many pieces. Eesh).

I’m burning my Kitchen Spice and Crisp Apple Strudel Yankee Candles.

IMG_2110 (1)I’m baking homemade bread and slow-cooking cozy homemade soup and propping my feet up while my puppy curls up beside me.

I’m feeling my baby kick surprisingly hard and thinking that I’m becoming ridiculously lazy–and that I miss doing the kind of real work that leaves you tired, messy, sweaty, and rewarded.

I’m reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in Spanish, mostly to make sure I still can.

Maybe it feels a little more like fall now than it did last week, even though the weather hasn’t changed.

Craving Autumn

This is what autumn on Guam looks like.

Autumn on Guam.

I love Guam. I don’t  love that when seasons are supposed to change, they don’t.

Everybody on Facebook is like, “Finally! It’s jacket weather!”

Everybody on Instagram is like, “Look how delectable this pumpkin spice latte is!”

And, of course, everyone on Pinterest is pinning harvest-inspired recipes, fall-weather styles, and autumn decor advice.

Here in Guam, the rainy season is weathering its way across the island. Today, a 7.1 earthquake interrupted the otherwise consistently drippy weather with a rumble that woke me from a dead sleep and made the house shake for over a minute. But that’s a rare variation. Temperatures are still in the mid 80’s (surprise!), and they will be through October, November, December, and ever, ever after.

Local coffee shops have pumpkin spice stuff, but it seems pointless to try to enjoy one in light of the atmospheric conditions. As I write this, I’m nursing a virgin strawberry tropical mojito (featuring calamansi, mint, strawberry syrup, and club soda), and fanning myself because even the air conditioning at Infusion isn’t quite cutting through my pregnancy-induced hot flashes.

Ah, well, maybe next year the good ol’ Air Force will send us somewhere that’s home to the seasons I’ve missed.

Not everything is beneficial.

Do not squander timeThe hubster is on night shift again, which means I’ve become nocturnal as well, by default. The worst part of having one’s circadian rhythms reversed is trying to live like nighttime is more than just free leisure time to waste away.

Normally, nights are for kicking back and putting off household chores, work, and other ordinary-life things until the daylight hours. I’m trying to reprogram myself, because that mentality doesn’t work so well when you’re asleep for most of the day.

Something from church a couple of weeks ago stuck with me in an almost eerily resounding way. The idea that sparked it is in 1 Corinthians 6:12:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Not everything is beneficial. 

I can think of a long list of things I can do with my time that aren’t beneficial to anyone in any way.

Doing something for relaxation isn’t relaxing at all if you have nothing to recover from.

In that passage, Paul was talking about sexual immorality more specifically than time management. But the implications of that verse just keep slapping me upside the head when it’s 11:30 p.m. and I don’t want to do anything but kick back on the sofa. The truth is, our time doesn’t lose value when we’re no longer at work or fulfilling those “normal” responsibilities. Spare time counts, too–it’s precious. put it really well in this article. The idea is that we should grow up and realize that the life in front of us is a gift. And is Netflix or Pinterest or the XBox really worth it? Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not. I know that I’m happiest when I don’t spend all my leisure time on pure leisure.

Maybe I have the free time right now to do anything my little heart desires, but that doesn’t mean I should squander it.

Maybe I don’t have any pressing responsibilities tonight, but I can find beneficial things to do.

Much to the annoyance of my inner lazy bum, the question keeps bannering through my mind: What can I do that’s beneficial right now?

While my husband is away at work, the paid writing assignments are done, the world is asleep, and I have every reason to kick back and enjoy this luxury, what can I do that’s not worthless? Anything that will give me a sense of accomplishment, rather than futility, so I know when I go to bed in the morning that I didn’t waste these precious hours of time.

Or so that, when I do kick back to watch Season 3 of Lost, it’s rewarding and enjoyable because I know I’ve done other beneficial stuff with my time, as well.

Making things–with a nod to the past and the future

Small ShoesSometimes I write compulsively. Writing is my job, but I rarely feel compelled to write about car insurance or the rising trends in online education, which is the type of stuff I get paid for. When I write compulsively, I get out my trusty old spiralbound notebook (anything fancier would set the standard too high) and document things–anything that’ll help me remember, later on, the rapidly-changing life that I lived.

Now, for instance, I can look back over some of those spiralbound journal-y things and get a (rather biased and sometimes overwhelmingly emotional) snapshot of what my life was like in 2010. Or 2006. Lots of things were once earth-shatteringly important, when I was 19. Or 15. Or 12. I’d forget them entirely if I hadn’t written something about them. No one will ever read them except me. I mean, they’re not top-secret, but they’re not all that interesting, either.

And sometimes I knit compulsively, which is harder to explain. But in some weird way almost parallel to writing, it’s another instance of making sense of life and creating something tangible to remember it by. I can knit or crochet with an eye to the future and to the past, with a nod to the person who’ll use whatever it is that I’ve made, the child I once was who learned those skills, and the person I am now who’s investing time in working yarn and needles between my fingers.

I’m guessing the sentiment is similar for anyone who creates, whether it’s sketching, sewing, creating stained glass windows, or working with wood.

It’s meditative. It forces me to pay attention, to sit still and focus on one thing (like twenty-three rows of a crazy lace pattern) while letting my mind wander, in a way that the crazy Internet-distracted tendency of modern life often obliviates. Like my writing, I don’t necessarily expect anyone to think that what I’ve made is the best thing ever. It’s enough for me to know that I challenged myself, made something work, and that every inch of yarn in a finished thingy has been touched and crafted by my hands.

Lately, I’ve been knitting compulsively. Impulsively.  Maybe one day I’ll look at the little green sweater I just made for my future child, and I’ll think of the hours sitting in my little Guam home. Puppy curled up next to me. Wondering what corner of the world I’ll be living in next year. Ripping out rows when I make a mistake, then painstakingly putting it back together again.

I don’t have a name for it, but I feel like everyone needs that sort of thing.

This is not a bookstore.

This is not what bookstores are supposed to be like. This is wrong. 

The bookstores on Guam are limited to one chain, aptly titled “Bestseller Books.” What it does well:

  • It carries all the newest bestsellers (albeit about three months after they’re released in the States)
  • It boasts a ridiculously wide variety of magazines
  • It has a relatively impressive collection of the latest young adult dystopian novels, vampire books, and Hunger Games lookalikes

What it does poorly:

  • Encourages people to, ahem, actually read

When you walk through the door, one of the first things you’ll notice are the paper signs Scotch-taped to the end of almost every shelf: “No Free Reading.” And, in case those signs didn’t dissuade you from hiding behind a shelf to skim through a book: “No sitting on floor.”

Not that there are chairs. Or empty spaces to lean. Or any other semblance of a way to get comfortable while you’re browsing a Bestseller Books. Because there’s not. It’s like the McDonald’s of bookstores: You go in, buy whatever the latest release is that you’re planning to read because everybody else is reading it, and you get out as fast as they can politely shove you out the door. Preferably without having even peeked into the spine of a book to see if it looks interesting.

When you check out, you’ll be warned that the store doesn’t accept returns, and exchanges must be processed within three days of the book’s purchase. If you ask about a damaged book, they’ll tell you they can’t offer a discount, even though the publisher couldn’t manage to cut the pages straight, or the customer who (illegally) flipped through the book before you broke the spine in half. And if you (heaven forbid) sit on the floor, you’ll be kindly asked to clear the way for other customers.

The classic literature section consists of one narrow set of shelves with mass market paperback versions of, I’m guessing, this year’s required high school reading. There are more magazines than non-fiction books of any kind. You’ll find greeting cards and the latest issues of Cosmopolitan or Sports Illustrated (or even Architectural Digest!), but you’d be hard pressed to find, say, Dickens. You’ll find The Dummies’ Guide to Korean, but no unabridged dictionaries.

I’m not saying every bookstore has to be like Barnes & Noble. But every bookstore worth the shingle it hangs out front should encourage actual reading. Occasionally. Maybe. Just a thought.

I think for the remainder of my time on Guam, I’m going to stick to Oyster and whatever I can find online. This is one case in which Amazon might be a better choice than buying locally, because I’m not sure I want to support whoever thought Bestseller Books was a good idea.


Why I decided to plan for a natural childbirth

I never thought I’d write a post like this.

Anyway. Maybe I’m just noticing it more, but it seems like everyone is having children. I just got an email from a friend I hadn’t talked to in several months, and we caught up a bit. “You’re pregnant??” she said. “So am I!”

My sister-in-law is expecting her first child sometime this month (I’m gonna be an aunt!!! Eep!), a good friend who just left island had her first child–a beautiful little girl–last month, and I’m finding more and more people in my circles who are either expectant or toting very small people around with them everywhere.

Since finding out I’m going to have a child, I’ve read some (okay, a lot of) books, talked to a lot of people, and done my share of research on pregnancy and childbirth. I’ve learned a lot, stressed out a lot, prayed a lot, and come to several conclusions, including the following:

1. Pregnancy and childbirth are normal (albeit huge and life-altering), and almost never need to be treated like an illness or disease.

2. Most (not all) obstetricians are trained surgeons who view pregnancy more as a medical problem that needs to be solved than as a normal event.

3. Even the most innocuous-seeming interventions can have very dramatic effects on the outcome of your labor and delivery.

4. Just because your doctor says something is “standard” does not mean it is beneficial. You have a right to ask questions and to deny any test or procedure.

5. The midwife model of care is much more mother- and baby- friendly than the standard obstetrical method, and there’s a reason midwifery is the standard in countless other Western countries (which also have dramatically lower C-section and maternal mortality rates than the U.S.).

Now, those concerns would have been much easier to address if I didn’t live in Guam. Because I’m blessed with government-provided health insurance, a hospital birth would have been free–complete with every technological advantage and diagnostic test under the sun.

Great, right? Except after one appointment, and a little asking around, I figured out that I wasn’t really interested in that hospital’s model of care and their “standard” treatment of pregnant patients, which involves more intervention than necessary for low-risk pregnancies.

As it is, it took a few months for me to get everything in line to transfer my care from the military hospital to a local birthing center which, though not perfect, embraces a much more normal, natural approach to pregnancy and labor. That means I’ll be able to:

  • Walk around, shower, or bathe while I’m in labor–all techniques which, I’m told, make pain much more bearable and help gravity move the birthing process along (not easy if you’re hooked up to an IV; not possible if you’ve had an epidural)
  • Eat and drink while in labor (many hospitals prohibit this)
  • Maintain privacy (no vaginal “checks” that do more to introduce bacteria than anything else) in a private, home-like room
  • Labor with the attendance of a skilled practitioner who has years of experience with natural, unmedicated childbirth
  • Keep my baby in the room with me from the time he or she is born until we leave the birthing center

I learned a few other things about U.S. maternity care that really, really bother me:

  • In some states, it’s illegal to plan on having your baby at home. In some states, it’s also illegal for even certified nurse midwives to deliver babies.
  • Inductions, epidurals, and constant monitoring reduce (or eliminate) a woman’s ability to labor normally and increase the probability of interventions like C-sections, which now account for around 30% of births in the U.S.
  • Countless women choose to plan a C-section or an induction based on their or their doctor’s convenience, even though inductions and C-sections result in more interventions and more negative outcomes for both the mother and baby than women who go into labor naturally.
  • These interventions often also make it significantly more difficult to get started breastfeeding, which provides countless health benefits that formulas simply cannot match.

So, for all the new mamas out there–I’m begging you to do research on your own and make your decision mindfully, after weighing your options. If your doctor makes it sound like you don’t really have options, don’t be afraid to question what they say, and get a second opinion.

Any practitioner worth your time and money will be thrilled you want to be truly involved in your own pregnancy.

Websites on natural birth: 

Birth Without Fear Blog

What to Reject When You’re Expecting from Consumer Reports

Natural Birth Options from Wellness Mama

Books that helped me: 

Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care. If you’ve ever really wondered how important certain specific interventions are, this book offers a fantastic, in-depth look at common interventions and whether or not they actually result in better outcomes.

Natural Pregnancy: Practical Childbirth Advice and Holistic Wisdom for a Healthy Pregnancy and Childbirth. Lots of great advice for choosing a practitioner, deciding what kind of pregnancy you want, and homeopathic remedies to keep things more comfortable.

I could recommend tons more resources, but I’m going to stop now, before this post gets unwieldy. I guess mostly I just want to encourage you and the new mothers in your life to stay informed and know your options before just going along with the “standard” model of care.

Storms and things

The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When you’re on a transpacific flight, you spend a lot of time counting blessings, finding ways to not hate the fact that you’re trapped. With a pregnancy-influenced bladder and a squished middle economy seat. And a young child sitting directly behind, who apparently finds great joy in hitting the seat back energetically and repeatedly.

When I was flying back to Guam last week, I spent some time counting those blessings. These are some I came up with:

1. the plane wasn’t crashing

2. my husband was beside me

3. there were only 12… 9… 6… 4 hours left

4. the food hadn’t been as bad as it could

5. I had every excuse in the world to chillax, set aside responsibilities, and pass the time

One of my favorite things about flying is that when you’re on a plane, all responsibilities kind of come to a stop. I guess there are exceptions to this, but really, during travel there’s generally a suspension of all the day-to-day stuff.

The same thing happens during storms. I remember a few rare snow days during Greenville, SC winters. I relished the opportunity to sit home and not have to do anything (barring the ubiquitous college homework). Knowing you can’t go anywhere can be beautiful.

You know, wearing pyjamas all day and reading whatever and eating homemade soup (if you’ve had the motivation to even make it) and watching Netflix and generally acting like the lazy bum that you know resides somewhere deep down in your heart.

So yesterday, when tropical storm Halong was making its way between Guam and Rota on its angry pilgrimage toward the Orient, that’s mostly what I was doing. While the winds whistled around the windows and rained palm branches and various other debris (including a random snorkel) on my little home, I was embracing my inner lazy bum, propping my feet up, NOT doing the mountain of homework that’s due in two days or the writing assignments that are piling up in my queue.

I think we should schedule storms more often.